There were so many flash points made about Andrew Jackson last week, and admittedly, I didn’t know much about him. At least, nothing good. I was curious about the man, his presidency and why Trump might be so enamored of him.
I knew there was more published material and readable research out there to feed my restless pursuit of the real American history, and eureka, I’ve found it!
“White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America,” by Nancy Isenberg, was published in 2016, with a new preface written after the election of Donald Trump.
Ms. Isenberg is the T. Henry Williams Professor of American History at Louisiana State University. Her well-written book has given me a new outlook.
Now, if only everyone had this book. But alas, the scholarly tome weighs in at 321 pages, and an additional 127 pages of notes.
Although weighty, the contents have filled in many blanks for me.
Right off the bat, in the new preface, Ms. Isenberg states re: the 2016 election, “it was class all the way.”
Class manipulations have been part of the electoral process for centuries, and during this past election, we got a constant view of how that works via television, Facebook, Twitter, et al.
But first, a confession: I am an American, therefore, since childhood, I have been taught to be biased against certain folk; show more preference to my own, but, to behave politely in public toward all.
I further confess that I have always been aware of lesser-than white folk. They were abundant throughout the parts of the south where I grew up (South Florida), and where my dad’s people pioneered: South Carolina. We used pejorative terms to describe them; I am not proud of that. But I never knew ‘why’
they were so poor, or that, how historically, this Country’s policies, certain legislation, and the general peculiarly negative attitudes toward this group of whites was based on how they were treated back in Europe.
I always thought that if you were white in America, you had an advantage built into your skin. Not!
The White Trash in her book were England’s waste, expendables. They were sent to this new country to be used up, worked to death, and, if they survived, left to their own ‘folkways.’ Literally, no one cared for their welfare, and the prevailing attitude was that they should just go off – to the hills, to the back alleys, to hovels, to eat mud, and die.
Sometimes even considered a different ‘White Trash’ race, their arrival here preceded the Africans brought to labor, primarily in the fields.
When Hillary Clinton declared that Trump’s supporters were ‘a basket of deplorables’, a code switch that backfired on her, she may have been quoting a page, or two, or even 200 from Ms. Isenberg who lists dozens of similar, and more provocative labels for this group – who have been with us since the founding of the country.
There are far worse descriptors for the lower class whites peppered throughout Isenberg’s book – the class that ultimately voted Trump into office – now euphemistically referred to as the ‘forgotten Americans.’
It is worth noting that democratic, electoral politics as practiced in the USA, has always been messy. But is has seldom been democratic.
But back to Andrew Jackson and Trump. Jackson – a well-known fighter, Indian-remover, and slave owner, represented a man of the times. According to Isenberg, his “lying and boasting made up for the absence of class pedigree. He used duels, feuds, and oaths to rise in the political pecking order in the young state of Tennessee.”
Isenberg goes on to say that during his campaign for president, Jackson did not stand for universal suffrage – only for the few, and he had little interest in getting nonslave owners, nee non-land owning whites suffrage, but instead “the attraction to a certain class of land-grabbing whites and the embrace of rude instinct of masculine liberty.”
Is the picture coming in any clearer? I give Trump props for knowing just enough history about Andrew Jackson to have borrowed a few pages from his book: emulating oafish behavior is ok in the end if it gets you elected; “speaking your mind’ really means speaking their minds (“Lock her up”, for example); exercising a strong arm is an admirable trait and is to be admired, and, to quote Isenberg again, “his (Jackson’s) utter lack of civility made him the voice of the non-elite outsider.”
And about Trump, Isenberg says that every time he spoke, he forged a bond with ‘working class’ voters despite his wealth, his upper class distinctions, and his gold-accented Louis XIV furniture.
They did not care because he rejected PC etiquette; he was one of them!
The other night, when former president Barack Obama received the Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award, he advised us in his acceptance speech, to have the courage to call out hate not just in others, but also face hate in ourselves. I was reminded of what I used to think about whites – until I read Isenberg’s book! And then I looked around …
OMG. I live in Texas! Toniwg1@gmail.com