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The Man Who Put Andrew Jackson in Trump’s Oval Office
Historian Walter Russell Mead has become the favorite Trump whisperer for everyone from Steve Bannon to Tom Cotton.

By SUSAN B. GLASSER January 22, 2018

A few months ago, the historian Walter Russell Mead got a text message out of the blue from an unknown number. It turned out to be White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon, not yet banished from Trump’s inner circle, had a surprising story to tell the wonky scholar of American foreign policy: Mead, he said, was the reason President Andrew Jackson’s portrait now occupied a controversial place of honor in Donald Trump’s Oval Office.

Bannon had seized on Mead’s work as part of his war on the other factions inside Trump’s White House, and especially the hyperentitled family members like son-in-law Jared Kushner and “globalists” like national security adviser H.R. McMaster he viewed as selling out Trump’s “America First” vision to the more conventional course preferred by the Washington establishment. In the rumpled Mead and his writings about the “Jacksonian” tradition in American foreign policy, Bannon saw a populist kindred spirit—and a suitably rabble-rousing model for the anti-establishment course he hoped Trump would follow.

Trump agreed, which is why the Jackson portrait went up and the president was visiting Old Hickory’s Tennessee home within weeks of his inauguration, never mind the instant outcry that greeted Trump’s embrace of a slave-holding, Native American-fighting early 19th century predecessor as his role model. “That’s what Steve Bannon told me,” Mead recalled in a new interview for The Global Politico, our weekly podcast on world affairs. “There was this Jacksonian moment.”

Even now, exactly a year after Trump’s inauguration, Mead says that while Bannon has been purged from the White House, Bannonism—and by extension the bowdlerized, 21st century version of Jacksonianism he was peddling—has not. If you want to understand Trump’s otherwise incomprehensible presidency, Mead argues, you need to understand America’s seventh president.

Trump’s embrace of Jackson as a governing philosophy has been decidedly controversial. To critics, it’s barely veiled racism, a signaling to Trump’s overwhelmingly white political base that is hardly subtle considering Jackson’s rapidly declining historical reputation. A slave owner and general once celebrated as the conquering hero of the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson is perhaps better known today as a fighter against Native Americans whose tactics were so brutal that the Obama administration announced in 2016 it was booting him from the $20 bill. When Trump recently hosted Native American leaders in the Oval Office and pictures circulated of them standing with the Jackson portrait in the background, Twitter was filled with commentary about the president’s boorish slight of his guests.
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