Last week's visit to Tennessee by President Donald Trump amply demonstrated both the highs and the lows of the current presidency, and only subsequent history will tell us which of these aspects will have predominated (assuming that we get safely to some future-tense point in a position to do what William Wordsworth referred to as recollecting with tranquility).
Perhaps urged on by a simultaneously published (and wholly unexpected) dithyramb from journalist/historian Jon Meacham likening Trump, for better or for worse, to Andrew Jackson, Trump made a point while in Nashville of laying a wreath at The Hermitage and embracing the comparison of himself to Old Hickory, whose own historical reputation became ambivalent enough in the last year to threaten the continued presence of his image on the $20 bill.
Like Trump, Jackson was a disrupter of tradition, with a single-minded focus on arrogating power to the presidency. Like Trump, he acceded to his office as a professed spokesman for the common folk. And, like Trump, Jackson trumpeted a vision of national glory. "He understood that great leadership was about putting America first," as Trump, the self-professed America Firster, put it upon taking the stage last Wednesday night at Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
At a certain point, however, the validity of the comparison becomes tenuous. There's no doubting that Trump has a certain mass appeal that can be called populist. That was attested to by the fact of people waiting all day in bitter cold weather, in a line stretching for more than a mile, for a chance to get inside and experience Trump in the flesh. (Sadly, the processing of these dedicated pilgrims by the Transportation Security Administration, was slow to the point of leaving thousands stranded outside.)
And the enthusiasm that, more or less continually, burst forth in shouts from approval from those who got inside to see and hear the president surely were manifestations of Trump's oratorical power and charismatic appeal, both of which are underestimated by his critics. But, ultimately, it is difficult to see just what, other than the excitement of the moment, those audience members in Nashville stood to gain from Trump. The great $20 billion wall on the nation's southern border, destined to be paid for by American taxpayers and most assuredly not by Mexico? The construction of pipelines to carry oil sludge across the nation's landscape at minimal gain for American consumers but with great potential environmental perils?
Or, most notably, Congress' (and Trump approved) recently unveiled health-care plan, a cynical dismantling of the Affordable Care Act that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates will strip 24 million Americans of their health insurance while enriching Big Pharma with billions of new tax write-offs?
Sadly, it would appear that Trump's legions of true believers are close kin to the masses of fans who attend those wrestling extravaganzas in which nothing that appears to be happening is actually real, but instead is transparently and cynically feigned. Give Trump his due: He's been there, done that, learned the art of stirring crowds at such make-believe scenarios in tandem with WWE impresario Vince McMahon himself. That's his real role model, by the way, not Andrew Jackson.