TTP: The String-Cutter Escapes Through The Window


He was a President unlike any other, his long hair, wispy and unruly, waving in the wind, brushing the collar of his coat. It was after his inauguration-day speech, in the afternoon before the music and dancing of the inaugural balls later in the evening. Andrew Jackson—the first Donald Trump—dismounted from his horse and stepped into the White House. He, and the rest of Washington DC, beheld a sight never before seen.

A throng of people were already there. They were white, black, old, young, city dwellers, farmers, men, women, children, dressed in leather, dressed in lace, dressed in the one outfit they reserved for a rare party or social gathering. They held cups of wine and mugs of alcohol-spiked punch, gulping and swallowing, the effects of liquor rapidly growing in evidence. They balanced plates piled high with cheeses and cookies and meats. Sometimes with utensils and sometimes with fingers, they consumed mouthfuls of food. Smashed dishes, plates, and vases; torn drapery and carpet; broken furniture; food trodden into crumbs and ground into the rugs. This was a event no one would soon forget.

Someone yelled out, “He’s here!” Now the real party could begin.

A head taller than most men, Jackson stuffed himself into the room. The people cheered, called out to him in loud voices and with sounds of excitement. Smiles, laughs, sweaty handshakes, bodies pressing tighter and tighter around him. Shoving, jostling, bumping, pushing, grabbing—everyone wanted the chance to speak to Jackson, to clasp his hand, clap him on the back, wish him well. For a moment a flash of danger filled the air. The invisible line between crowd and mob wobbled and wavered.

In that instant, with the invisible line still quivering, those closest to Jackson decided the wisest thing for the new President to do was to leave. Jackson decided the same thing. Pushing, leaning, winding half-step by half-step through the tangles of people, Jackson and a few men looked toward the nearest exterior wall and saw a large window—or perhaps a small, seldom-used door—that opened onto the White House yard. Finally reaching it, they pried up the latch, and wedged it open enough to shove Jackson outside, into safety. With a body as thin and tough as his “Old Hickory” nickname implied, Jackson slipped through and with his handful of protectors fled to a secure location. They would wait there for the raucous celebration to die down.

A woman watching the scene sensed the closing of one era and the beginning of another. “It was the People’s day,” wrote Margaret Smith, “and the People’s President and the People would rule.” Put another way, she was witness to the first day of Andrew Jackson as string-cutter.

Andrew Jackson’s election marked the real end of a string of three, two-term American Presidents (Jefferson-Madison-Monroe). He had tried and failed to do it in the presidential election of 1824, which he had lost to John Quincy Adams. Technically, Adams ended the three-part, two-term with a controversial victory over Jackson. But in reality, Jackson was the actual string-cutter in that he had none of the social, cultural, ethnic, and political connections that Adams had with all three of their predecessors. Jackson, then, truly cut the string.

Jackson chose to continue string-cutting after his inauguration. He might have regarded the election as the final act of string-cutting. His presence as an outsider frontier-president—known as the symbol of a region far distant from the Atlantic coast where economic and political power had resided for decades—might have been enough to call his work done. No more string-cutting necessary because the election result, it might have been argued, was culmination enough. But that wasn’t Jackson’s approach.

Jackson’s leadership style and his symbolism as a frontier-figure gave his Presidency a restless sort of energy. As a result, Jackson blazed new trails through existing patterns of law, economy, finance, and national identity. He was determined to put into policy and practice the promises—both those spoken and those implied—he had made to his broad range of newcomer followers; the mechanics, the farmers, the former-soldiers, the dock workers, and on and on, they wanted something from Jackson. And with the first day of his presidency, the day he slipped out the side door of the White House, Andrew Jackson sought to make good on his word.

This brings us to 2017. You’ll find amazing revelations when Jackson and Trump are placed side-by-side as string-cutters. The reality of Jacksonian string-cutting illuminates the potentiality of Trumpian string-cutting.

Like Jackson, Trump’s string-cutting has a regional feel to it. “Fly-over country” and the frontier are remarkably close in how they’re viewed by folks who live in settings of urban/suburban/exurban power. Also, like Jackson, Trump is a social outsider, someone never quite accepted into the inner circles of people who value their own refinement, manners, and taste. That fact of rejection is a fuel for worth—the drive to prove “them” wrong, to leave an imprint “they” can’t either remove or ignore. I find it difficult to think that Trump’s personalized and personalism leadership style will allow him to do anything less than cut the string of Clinton-Bush-Obama. It will mean more than simply occupying the White House.

I offer you a magnifying glass to examine the political landscape around Jackson and Trump. You’ll see a couple of revealing sights.

First, scrutinize the political party structure around them.

  • Jackson existed in a one-party structure (Democratic-Republican) that had growing fissures inside it. Trump exists in a two-party structure (Democrat and Republican). String-cutting for a one-party structure means that stark assertions and direct decisions become forces of attraction unto themselves. String-cutting for a two-party structure can involve these as well, but will also require an extra element to strengthen cohesion and binding ties. Positive outcomes from assertions and decisions may be even more crucial in string-cutting in a two-party structure than it is in a one-party structure.
  • Jackson’s string-cutting consisted of adding thousands of new people to the existing party, but his addition produced a division—a second party (Whigs) formed out of reaction and resistance to him. This should tell you that if or when (I believe it is the latter) Trump starts his string-cutting, the effect will be on two, or both, parties, not just the one to which he belongs. Both Republicans and Democrats should be aware of this oncoming fact.

Second, both Jackson and Trump have frontiers at work in their string-cutting.

  • For Jackson, the frontier is spatial—the “west” as represented by Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, and so on. Jackson’s frontier is an edge, a border of the American nation, a measurable distance away from the established coastal centers of power. You could go, physically, to the frontier of Andrew Jackson.
  • For Trump, the frontier is digital—the 2010s internet and pixelated, micro-technology is as wild, chaotic, and tumultuous as any upstart town in Jackson’s day. Trump’s frontier is pervasive and ubiquitous, a Cloud covering the American nation and the global America, unmeasurable in uprooting and scattering particles of power through the swirling air. You can connect, virtually, to the frontier of Donald Trump. It is fittingly natural that Jackson and Trump share the frontier.

There will be no White House side-door incident in the 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump. Doesn’t matter. The ghost of Andrew Jackson has slipped back inside the White House once more. He came through the main entrance.

Action-Point: Expect a Jacksonian-style onset of string-cutting in the strongest and clearest terms. Whenever you’re confused about it, remember to call up the frontier.

Next time: finally, as promised before, I’ll explain my Trump Rule.