In 1828, Andrew Jackson, a rough and coarse-talking frontiersman and military celebrity with a checkered marital history, defeated John Quincy Adams, the son of a former president, to claim the presidency of the United States of America. Jacksonian democracy followed, and the common [man], at least the white ones, finally got his revenge against the eastern elites and establishment politicians. Not everything about the Jackson presidency was negative, but the worst part of it was very bad. My own Cherokee ancestors were deported from their homes in the Southeast and forced to march to Oklahoma in the infamous atrocity known as “the Trail of Tears.” Thousands died, and with them, the hopes of the survivors.
Strange things happen in politics, and as Shakespeare said, “politics makes strange bed fellows.” I learned that saying as a six-year-old child when it was inverted by Time magazine to read, “bedfellows make strange politics.” The reference was to George Wallace’s decision to defy constitutional term limits and hold onto the reins of Alabama government by running his wife Lurleen for governor. Succeeding in that, he went on to run for president as a very strong third party candidate. Curiouser and curiouser; comes around and goes around.
As George Santayana said, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Undoubtedly, many parallels with American history can be found in this year’s crazy presidential campaigns in both traditional parties and perhaps emerging new ones. Warning signs abound.
I am determined to learn from history, and as an advocate for the humane treatment of immigrants, despite whatever other political developments emerge, I will raise my voice to resist, no matter the outcome of the coming elections, a New Trail of Tears. I owe it to my ancestors, both Indians and immigrants. I owe it to my grandchildren, and to whatever ethnicity they may claim.
No new Trail of Tears. There are better, more Christian, more humane ways to fix our national immigration reality.
Joseph Castleberry, Ed.D., is president of Northwest University in Kirkland, WA and the author of The New Pilgrims: How Immigrants are Renewing America’s Faith and Values (Worthy, 2015).