The great constitutional corrective in the hands of the people against usurpation of power, or corruption by their agents is the right of suffrage; and this when used with calmness and deliberation will prove strong enough. Andrew Jackson
I have studied Andrew Jackson and his rise to political greatness, his strengths, his weaknesses, his thin-skinned reactionism, and his excesses. He has been and will always remain a controversial figure in American politics, will still remain in the eyes of many one of our most influential presidents, particularly those who are aware of history enough to see that he is the grandfather of the current political miasma in which we find ourselves.
There is no need to write me and tell me that Jackson’s idea of suffrage did not include women, African-Americans, or Native Americans, and was limited to those who looked a lot like he did. There is no need to remind me of the fate of Native Americans at the hands of Jackson. There is no need to point out that he was a duelist, a ruffian, an uneducated backwoods bumpkin completely out of touch with the ruling elites of the times, and perhaps an executive usurper…he was all of those things. He had a spine, though, a rigid backboard that supported the weight of his office as well as the weight of more than one lead ball fired at close range into his body.
Jackson’s quote above is still relevant for today. As badly as George W. (43) Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, were despised by the left, and they were truly despised, it was the corrective power of suffrage that replaced him with Barack Obama, the people apparently having had enough of dynastic presidencies and longing for a fresh face, a new view. It was also the right of suffrage that rejected an extension of Obama’s policies and the ascension of yet other political dynasty, and placed Donald Trump as President: a different group longing for political freshness, for a wind from a different direction.
As the people seemed then to howl and mourn the impending death of the Republic over the election of Jackson, so now they seem to howl and mourn over the election of Trump. I hear conspiracy stories about how Trump intends to take over the government by declaring martial law and inserting himself as dictator. So heard I the same things about Barack Obama. So heard I the same things about Bush/Cheney. So heard we about the Kennedys and their Papal overlords. So heard the people about Jackson. The same conspiracy story comes round and round again and again, only with newer, more relevant names. The story loses its influence if the names of the players are not updated from time to time.
Jackson was a common man. He was for the common man and against national banks that controlled and manipulated the currency and thus the government, which he saw as detrimental to the common man, serving only the interests of those manipulators who sought to control the economy for their own ends. He was a states-righter until South Carolina decided it was going to nullify a federal tax law, then he was an ardent Federalist. As South Carolina tested the waters of secession by refusing to acknowledge Federal law, Jackson tested the waters of Unionism and did not bluff when he demanded that South Carolina fall into compliance or face the music. John C. Calhoun, a former vice-president and then speaker of the house, a feisty South Carolinian, knew there was no bluff in Jackson. The looming civil war was was not averted, only postponed for a season.
Times are similar now to what they were then. The issues are similar, some of them seeming to have as much moral significance to citizens now as slavery did then, though I vouchsafe that today’s open borders debate and the existence of slavery hardly hold the same moral ground; they do not. And though I am talking about Jackson and his presidency, and slavery as a union-busting institution was not the focus during Jackson’s times, it was already more than smoldering; it was a flame, constantly having fuel dumped on it until the fire erupted uncontrolled just a generation later when the longing for freshness in the executive office led to the election of a plain-spoken, backwoods bumpkin as President, one somewhat Jacksonian in his disposition. Sometimes fresh faces bring relief; sometimes they bring grief…and sometimes the grief yields the right results, having given birth to a splendid child only after much pain and labor.
The fiscal morass of Hoover led to Roosevelt. The New Deal of Roosevelt led to the conservatism of Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s conservatism led to Kennedy’s New Frontier, which in turn was followed by Johnson’s Great Society coupled with the war in Vietnam (an unlikely juxtaposition), which yielded to the scurrilous Nixon, then the pusillanimous Carter, followed by Reagan/Bush41, which gave birth to Bill Clinton’s fresh face whose excesses paved the way for Bush43, which gave us Obama, who single-handedly had as much to do with the election of Donald Trump than anyone besides Hillary Clinton. Suffrage gives us the opportunity to correct our path. Sometimes we choose wisely, others, not.
I am not clairvoyant. I cannot see the future. But I can surely see the past. I can see that the pendulum swings one way, then another, just as it is supposed to. The danger is when the pendulum stops, and the clock gives false readings at all times except for twice daily, which makes some think the clock needs no attention.
Suffrage is the attention the clock gets when it is only correct 2 minutes out of the 1,440 that make up a day. Suffrage yields results that some find distasteful. If you could ask Andrew Jackson how it feels to have an election stolen from him by nefarious political cabals, he could tell you, in fact, Jackson already told us, since the events of the election of 1824 are still considered controversial, though they have long since passed into recorded history. Perhaps Al Gore could give us a similar story over those hanging chads in Florida. But Hillary Clinton can never tell the same story in the same manner, since winning the popular vote and losing in the electoral college is part of the process which Clinton knew very well. Her only surprise was that she failed to carry states she thought she had in the bag. She neglected her constituency. The corrective power of suffrage caught up with her.
The corrective power of suffrage will catch up with Donald Trump, too, or his potential successors. Trump will perhaps be as likely to receive a state’s nullification of Federal law with as much welcome as Jackson.
We are in the midst of the Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” Our right of suffrage has altered our course, though the nation seems split into endless factions on exactly what the course should be. Regardless, the times are certainly interesting.
Suffrage corrects our course from time to time, and if not an actual correction, then at least an alteration. Even if the course correction takes the form of a tack in unfavorable winds and continues for only a short period, eventually, the ship makes it to a safe harbor…unless, of course, in single-visioned pursuit of the safe harbor no one sees the iceberg looming in the distance being overtaken, the iceberg moving only at the speed of the wind and current, the ship surging blindly forth under full steam, still thinking itself unsinkable.
Four years from now, the people will have the chance to make a course correction similar to the one they just made. Perhaps we will be able to live up to the gracious observation of Alexis deTocqueville, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
deTocqueville also said this, “In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.”
We must form our own opinions. If they are unpopular, then know that being unpopular is not necessarily associated with being wrong. Neither is it assured that our opinions are anchored in facts, or are useful to ourselves and others. Just know that our greatness as Americans is our ability to repair our faults, and to cast our votes for course corrections. Though the ship may sail towards a harbor we do not wish, we’d all rather stay afloat in the relative comfort of the boat than be swimming about in a frigid ocean thousands of miles from a safe harbor. What a hopeless feeling that must be.
The hardest part for us is knowing the truth. There is no dearth of falsity which constantly informs our opinions.
The worst falsity is the truth we bend to our own will.
©2017 Mississippi Chris Sharp