If you blinked, you missed it, but conservative author and documentarian Dinesh D’Souza briefly shared a historic moment with Twitter followers – the delivery of his book, “The Big Lie,” to President Trump’s best-known nationalist advisers.
The irony, which I was not the first person to pick up on, was all about the contents of that book. “The Big Lie” is the latest in D’Souza’s apparently endless series of books about the “untold history” of the Democratic Party, one that he recounts by quoting the historians who’ve already told it. It builds on a theme from “Hillary’s America,” his 2016 book/documentary twofer – that the origins of the party, as Andrew Jackson’s populist machine, make Democrats the forefathers of American and international genocide.
“It was the Democratic Party under its founder, Andrew Jackson, and then under Jackson’s Democratic successors, that massacred the Indians and drove them west and presided over the ignominious Trail of Tears,” D’Souza explained in a book preview published this week via Breitbart. “This is the actual precedent that Hitler appealed to in formulating his plans of conquest, dispossession and enslavement.”
That advanced an argument D’Souza made in 2016, that Jackson “established the Democratic Party as the party of theft” and rancid populism.
“He mastered the art of stealing land from the Indians and then selling it at giveaway prices to white settlers,” D’Souza wrote. “Jackson’s expectation was that those people would support him politically, as indeed they did. Jackson was indeed a ‘man of the people,’ but his popularity was that of a gang leader who distributes his spoils in exchange for loyalty on the part of those who benefit from his crimes.”
Here is the problem. The Democrats of 2016 dispute none of these descriptions of Jackson. By the time “Hillary’s America” hit the screen, the majority of state Democratic parties were scrubbing Jackson’s name from their fundraising dinners. A largely left-wing movement to remove Jackson from the $20 bill succeeded under President Barack Obama, whose Treasury Department agreed to phase Jackson out and phase in Harriet Tubman. Years earlier, Obama signed a bipartisan resolution of apology to the Cherokee for Jackson’s Indian Removal policy.
But seven months ago, Obama handed power to the most full-throated supporter of Andrew Jackson in recent presidential history: Donald Trump. His chief political strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, constantly evokes Jackson and positions Trump as his heir.
“I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House,” Bannon said of Trump’s inaugural address. “But you could see it was very Jacksonian. It’s got a deep, deep root of patriotism there.”
Like all good political terms, “Jacksonian” has been bent into many meanings. But this isn’t complicated – Trump, in his quest to evoke Jackson, went so far as to visit the Hermitage on the seventh president’s 250th birthday. D’Souza’s revisionist histories will probably keep flying off the shelves, but it’s tricky to yoke the modern-day Democrats to a legacy that the modern-day Republican president is demanding for his own.
— The Washington Post