It’s hard to imagine passing through life without mentors. You know, those people who help sculpt and grind the way we look at the world, and ourselves. Knowingly or unknowingly, we seek them out.
Of course, mentors come in all shapes and sizes — unknown artists, disaffected factory workers, battle-weary uncles.
And lest we forget those who perform the same task by simply providing a bad example. I mean, I’ve learned more from crash-test dummies than anything any proper instructor would have ever taught me.
I was considering this last week as I finished “American Lion,” the 2008 biography of Andrew Jackson. As you may or may not know, our currently besieged commander-in-chief claims Jackson as a primary inspiration in his duties as president.
As I read, the outward similarities became easily apparent. Both had taken office amidst sexual scandal, though Jackson’s was of a far less unsavory 19th century variety. Both considered the judicial branch a necessary inconvenience, with Jackson going so far as to ignore a judicial demand for the government to recognize Native American rights prior to the infamous Trail of Tears. As a matter of fact, both were ambivalent and hostile to chosen members of non-white races, with Jackson a longtime opponent of abolition and a life-long owner of slaves. However, I also found much that separated the two.
Jackson grew up orphaned and poor from a relatively young age. Raised by indifferent relatives after his loving mother and two brothers died during the Revolutionary War, Jackson grew to be a lawyer, war hero (he carried a bullet in his back for the remainder of his life), and national statesman. He epitomized the self-made man and became a champion (in his own mind) of the common people.
Yet, he was also a contradictory man. After he and his troops had slaughtered an entire Native American village, he adopted a small boy who wandered out of the landscape of discarded corpses. He was filled with such remorse, he sent the boy back to his house to live. I’m trying to imagine Mr. Trump rescuing and adopting a young, orphaned Honduran or Venezuelan boy at the border. Can you see it? No, me neither.
However, the most amazing distinction I found was Jackson’s view on the corrupting power of money in governance. He had taken the extraordinary measure of emptying the funds of the Bank of the United States (an act for which he was Congressionally censured), who Jackson believed was misusing the funds to finance the elections of the properly connected.
When asked why he felt it necessary, Jackson replied, “The issue is whether the people of the United States are to govern through representatives chosen by their unbiased suffrages or whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgment and control their decisions.”
Given his penchant for buying favor or silence, it’s impossible to imagine words such as those issuing from our President’s mouth. I suspect his inspiration goes only so far. I guess none of us ever fully receive from our mentors what we think we do. I suppose, in the end, we all have ourselves to contend with.
Growing up comfortably monied, untouched by required military service and unmoved by the suffering of the disadvantaged, Trump’s narrow experience sees no issue with money’s corrupting power.
Will it ever? Doubtful.
But then again, on Jackson’s deathbed he spoke to his gathered family and numerous slaves who had crowded into his small, provincial bedroom, saying, “Do not cry; I hope to meet you all in Heaven — yes, all in Heaven, white or black. My conversation is for you all. Christ has no respect to color.”
Given our current condition, I suppose anything is possible.
Paul Wheeler is a member of the Write Team and resides in Ottawa.