Paul LePage brings up Andrew Jackson a lot. He mentioned our seventh President during his weird non-apology after threatening State Rep. Drew Gattine back in August. LePage also recently likened Donald Trump’s ludicrous comments about a “rigged” election to Jackson’s controversial defeat in 1824. “Saying it’s rigged — I agree. There’s no question it’s rigged,” the governor said. “Andrew Jackson clearly won the election but the elitists changed the results.
I think LePage does this because he identifies with Jackson, and I get it. I mean, they’re alike in a lot of ways. Both of their origin stories involve overcoming difficult childhoods: LePage ran away from an abusive father at age 11 and was homeless for two years; Jackson was orphaned at age 14. They share an antagonism toward “elites” and a fondness for dueling.
The thing is, Andrew Jackson was a monster. He was a petty, egotistical, power-hungry, thin-skinned warmonger. To cite just one of the most infamous examples of his ignorance and bigotry, here’s a quote from Jackson’s address to Congress in 1833, justifying the Native American genocide: “They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.”
To call Jackson a racist would be an understatement, but it also may confuse those of you who know he adopted two Native American boys: Theodore, “an Indian about whom little is known” (as Wikipedia politely puts it), and Lyncoya, a Creek Indian who died of tuberculosis as a teen.
Crazy, right? I mean, why would this racist monster take children he considered subhuman, members of a culture he openly referred to as “savage,” into his own home?
Well, I think this question gets less confusing when you look at the adoption more as a cooption. In an article for Slate last spring, “Andrew Jackson’s Adopted Indian Son,” staff writer Rebecca Onion wrote that in addition to being a “pett” for one of Jackson’s white adopted sons, “Lyncoya was also politically valuable to Jackson” to the extent that the Indian boy’s adoption could help counter Jackson’s well-deserved reputation as a genocidal maniac. In other words, the child could be used as a sort of get-out-of-racism-free card.
Have you heard about LePage’s “adopted” black “son,” the biological child of a Jamaican man who caddied for LePage during one of his vacations on the island? You know, that son you never, ever hear from, but who gets mentioned by LePage every single time he says something racist? I’ll bet you have. So there’s another parallel to Jackson.
LePage also likens himself to Trump. “I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump became popular,” the governor quipped last February, when he formally endorsed that modern-day monster for the presidency.
LePage thinks of himself and Trump and Jackson as three tough guys who have to battle a system rigged against them, who have to act on their own, for the good of mankind, all the while “telling it like it is.” In reality, the political system was designed by and for people exactly like them.
But LePage and Trump are correct when they say there are problems with the system. For example, both of LePage’s gubernatorial victories, achieved without a majority of votes, illustrate the shortcoming of our electoral process when more than two candidates are in the race.
On November 8, Mainers will have an opportunity to change that by passing Question 5, which would establish a statewide system of ranked-choice voting. It’s not a solution to all our political problems, and it certainly won’t get rid of LePage, but it can shut the door through which he walked into the Blaine House in 2010, and through which someone like him may follow in 2018 — and we would all benefit from that.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.