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Delaying Tubman image on $20 bill has all the hallmarks of Trumpism

Among the possible factors: racism, sexism, pettiness, egotism, arbitrariness, base-pandering, hatred of and obsession with Barack Obama.

rendering of Harriet Tubman
Then-Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew looking at a rendering of Harriet Tubman during a visit to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on April 21, 2016.
Department of Treasury/Chris Taylor/Handout via Reuters

The Trump administration has announced that it will not follow through with the plan that it inherited from the Obama administration to phase out the $20 bill that bears a picture of Andrew Jackson and replace it with a bill honoring Harriet Tubman.

It’s possible to make too much of this. No lives will be lost either way, and perhaps some money will be saved. But it’s impressive how many of the hallmarks of Trumpism could be jammed into a small symbolic decision.

Racism, sexism, pettiness, egotism, arbitrariness, base-pandering, hatred of and obsession with Obama. They’re all in there.

Jackson, a minor military leader in the War of 1812 (his most famous victory, in the Battle of New Orleans, occurred after the war was already over, but word of the cessation of hostilities hadn’t reached Jackson until the battle was won), Jackson was also a slaveowner and an Indian-hater and -killer, responsible for some horrendous acts against Native Americans including, as president, the sad brutal chapter known as the “trail of tears,” in which the forced expulsion of natives from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida led to the death of tens of thousands.

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I’m sure there are some nicer things that could be said about Jackson, a key figure in the early history of the Democratic Party. In some states (not Minnesota), an annual Democratic dinner is named the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.

One of Trump’s favorite figures

But, for some of the reasons mentioned above, Jackson’s place in the national pantheon has been slipping. Trump, whose ignorance of American history is legendary, has adopted Jackson as one of his favorite figures. So there’s that. Although Jackson died in 1845, 16 years before the Civil War, Trump caused some head-scratching during his 2016 campaign by suggesting that the Civil War would not have occurred if people had listened to Andrew Jackson.

All current U.S. currency bears a picture of a white male. During the Obama years, the idea of phasing out Jackson from the $20 bill (under the plan, he would be retained on the back side of the bill) and replacing him on the front with Harriet Tubman was adopted, which would, among other things, add a dose of both race and gender diversity to the lineup.

Tubman, born into slavery in 1822, escaped and became a heroic figure in the tale of the “underground railroad” that helped fleeing slaves make it to the free states of the North. She was also an early activist in the cause of women’s suffrage.

Trump has previously said that it would be “rough” on Jackson to take him off the bill. Now  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that that transition in the $20 bill will be canceled or at least pushed back several years. He has deflected questions of whether the idea for that came from his boss.

Gee, I wonder. Here’s a list of possible explanatory factors (oops, I already mentioned these at the top): racism, sexism, pettiness, egotism, arbitrariness, base-pandering, hatred of and obsession with Obama.