W. R. Mead on Jacksonians

This is a powerful essay.
For President Barack Obama and his political allies in particular, Jacksonian America is the father of all evils. Jacksonians are who the then Senator had in mind when, in the campaign of 2008, he spoke of the ‘bitter clingers’ holding on to their guns and their Bibles. They are the source of the foreign policy instincts he most deplores, supporting Israel almost reflexively, demanding overwhelming response to terror attacks, agitating for tight immigration controls, resisting diplomacy with Iran and North Korea, supporting Guantanamo, cynical about the UN, skeptical of climate change, and willing to use ‘enhanced interrogation’ against terrorists in arms against the United States.

He hates their instincts at home, too. It is Jacksonians who, as I wrote in Special Providence back in 2001, see the Second Amendment as the foundation of and security for American freedom. It is Jacksonians who most resent illegal immigration, don’t want to subsidize the urban poor, support aggressive policing and long prison sentences for violent offenders and who are the slowest to ‘evolve’ on issues like gay marriage and transgender rights.

The hate and the disdain don’t spring from anything as trivial as pique. Historically, Jacksonian America has been the enemy of many of what President Obama, rightly, sees as some of America’s most important advances. Jacksonian sentiment embraces a concept of the United States as a folk community and, over time, that folk community was generally construed as whites only. Lynch law and Jim Crow were manifestations of Jacksonian communalism, and there are few examples of race, religious or ethnic prejudice in which Jacksonian America hasn’t indulged. Jacksonians have come a long way on race, but they will never move far enough and fast enough for liberal opinion; liberals are moving too, and are becoming angrier and more exacting regardless of Jacksonian progress.

Just as bad, in the view of the President and his allies, Jacksonians don’t have much respect for the educated and the credentialed. Like William F. Buckley, they would rather be governed by the first 100 names in the phonebook than by the Harvard faculty. They loathe the interfering busybodies of the progressive state, believe that government (except for the police and the military) is a necessary evil, think most ‘experts’ and university professors are no smarter or wiser than other people. and feel only contempt for the gender theorists and the social justice warriors of the contemporary classroom.

Virtually everything about progressive politics today is about liquidating the Jacksonian influence in American life. From immigration policy, touted as ending the era when American whites were the population of the United States, to gun policy and to regulatory policy, President Obama and his coalition aim to crush what Jacksonians love, empower what they fear, and exalt what they hate....

There’s another obstacle in the face of a Jacksonian rising: Jacksonians have been hard hit by the changes in the American economy. The secure working class wages that underpinned two generations of rising affluence for the white (and minority) industrial working class have disappeared. That isn’t just about money; the coherence of Jacksonian communities and family life has been seriously impaired. These are the points Charles Murray makes in his harrowing Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010; they have been recently reinforced by studies documenting a holocaust of lower and lower middle class whites.

These devastating changes, utterly ignored by an upper middle class intellectual and cultural establishment that not so secretly hopes for a demographic change in America that will finally marginalize uncredentialed white people once and for all, make Jacksonians angry and frustrated, but they also make it harder to develop an organized political strategy in response to some of the worst and most dangerous conditions faced by any major American demographic group today....

Jacksonian America is rousing itself to fight for its identity, its culture and its primacy in a country that it believes it should own. Its cultural values have been traduced, its economic interests disregarded, and its future as the center of gravity of American political life is under attack. Overseas, it sees traditional rivals like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran making headway against a President that it distrusts; more troubling still, in ISIS and jihadi terror it sees the rapid spread of a movement aiming at the mass murder of Americans. Jacksonian America has lost all confidence in the will or the ability of the political establishment to fight the threats it sees abroad and at home. It wants what it has always wanted: to take its future into its own hands.
Working out how to make that happen is the real problem. The Trump candidacy is at best a mask. Donald Trump is not really a Jacksonian: he is a Trumpist. Jim Webb was a Jacksonian. I am, apparently. Trump is not, and offers no actual hope of making real the promise of genuine self-government.

The governor of Texas has a program that sounds as if it might work, by limiting Federal power and thus empowering the states in a way that, where majorities do exist, the people can 'take their future into their own hands.' If not that, still stronger medicine seems the only answer.


Tom said...

I think Mead's on to something, but I'm not sure what. He groups together people who "loathe the interfering busybodies of the progressive state, believe that government (except for the police and the military) is a necessary evil" and yet who have "a love of middle class entitlement programs, and a fear of free trade". Likewise, differences in views on drug laws are significant because they point out differences in views on what the role of government should be.

Anyway, even without these differences, I'm not really sure who he is talking about. Of course, maybe the people he is talking about aren't sure themselves. It's interesting to think of millions of Americans sharing these values without knowing each other or really being aware of that fact.

Joel Leggett said...

It is an interesting article. That said, there is much I disagree with regarding some of his claims. First of all, I see precious little evidence that there are Jacksonians, in any significant number rating notice, in the Democratic party. You may be one Grim, but that doesn't mean there are enough to be statistically significant or relevant to the party's base. Additionally, I think he overstates Jacksonian attachment to Social Security and Medicare. While I agree that many Jacksonians are projecting their desires onto Trump, the reason this is happening, especially in the Republican Primary, is because Jacksonians are squarely on the right side of the American political spectrum. Jacksonian patriotism, individualism, distrust of government solutions, and commitment to the 2nd Amendment in particular and Constitutional fidelity in general place them on the right, even as that term is currently defined by political elites.

Grim said...

I think Mead uses "Jacksonian" as a term of art for Middle America, whom he thinks has roughly Jacksonian values. The implication that they support Social Security and Medicare is probably just from the robust polling data that suggests Middle America does.

In his conception, it's a plurality of America that has been basically betrayed by the governing elite. They as he describes them are characteristically white (which merely means that they assimilated into Middle America from ancestors who would not have been considered "white"), lack academic credentials, and tend to work at trades rather than professions. They are unrepresented by either party, and are in fact the regular punching bags of the Democrats, while the Republicans pay them lip service while actually selling out their interests in favor of those of corporate donors.

Gringo said...

Not the first time that Mead has written on the Jacksonians.From The National Interest No. 58, Winter 1999/2000.

Blame it on the ornery Scots-Irish.

ColoComment said...

I first saw Mead discuss his Jacksonian, et al., theories in his book "Special Providence."

He identifies four "schools" of U.S. foreign policy that he asserts are in tension with each other (to greater/lesser degrees) and at times one or another is in the ascendant.

From the blurb at the link below:
"Mead attributes this success to four schools of thought, named after four American statesmen: the Hamiltonian (protection of commerce), Jeffersonian (maintenance of a democratic system), Jacksonian (populist values, military strength), and Wilsonian (moral principle). The title of Mead's book comes from a remark usually attributed to Otto von Bismarck, who is alleged to have said, "God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America." "

Ymar Sakar said...

The Jacksonians, defined as people who follow an authoritarian figure like Jackson without emulating his virtues, were also the same ones who backed the lynching and punishment of abolitionists in 1830, which inevitably led to slave barons causing a civil war in 1860.

Trump isn't a Jacksonian, of course, he may only be a Democrat, former, like Webb or Zell Miller. But even the Jacksonians didn't have half the virtues of Jackson himself. If they were attempting to emulate him, there was nothing left to emulate. It's not like he was Jesus or Mohammed, and started writing down some holy laws in political manuscripts for other people to follow. All he had were his own experiences, gained from his own life. Which people later idealized.

The ideal cannot be achieved, however.

Ymar Sakar said...

Mead is a Democrat. He votes for Democrats like Hussein. He's a collaborator in the Regime. ANd when he talks about Middle American Jacksonians, he is speaking of people, Democrats, like himself. Collaborators. While the Jacksonian party and the people who emulate Jackson exists, that's not going to be found in the Democrats. That's only found in individuals... since that's who Jackson was. Andrew Jackson that is, not a statue of an ideal.