Observations On Donald Trump’s Harriet Tubman Comments

Harriet.Tubman 20

Don’t worry. Despite Donald Trump’s supposed “new leaf” that has him trying act and sound “presidential,” he’s going to continue to say ignorant, stupid and offensive things, because he really doesn’t know what is “presidential,” or ignorant, stupid and offensive, for that matter.

Today’s example was his off-the-cuff commentary about Harriet Tubman replacing President Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill.Trump said:

“I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic. I would love to leave Andrew Jackson and see if we can come up with another denomination. Maybe we do the $2 bill or another bill. I don’t like seeing it. Yes, I think it’s pure political correctness. He’s been on the bill for many, many years and really represented somebody that was really very important to this country.”


1. Ethics Alarms offers this competence and responsibility-based rule for public figures, especially those running for President of the United States.

If you can’t say something that is constructive, coherent and adds substance to the discussion, keep your opinion to yourself.

Of course, that would mean Trump would seldom get to say anything. Still, this statement was completely gratuitous, vapid, clumsy and wrong.

2. Is anyone really upset about Andrew Jackson being bumped to the back of the bill for Harriet Tubman? Anyone other than incorrigible  racists, Andrew Jackson fanatics, loyal Tennesseans or idiots, that is? This fact should be critical for those who lack a passing knowledge of Jackson and his administration: Andy hated banks, maybe even worse that Bernie Sanders. His was always a weird choice for a face on a Treasury bill.

3. As usual, Trump can’t argue or reason, so he retreats to rationalizations.He’s been on the bill for many, many years”—and? Why does that matter? Who made the rule that the designs on currency have tenure? Ben Franklin was on the fifty cent piece for a long time, then JFK got the honor. There is no such rule. What would be wrong with rotating the great Americans on coins and bills?

4. Jackson was “somebody that was really very important to this country,” though I’d love to hear Trump explain how. He was one of the four or five most influential and transformative Presidents, the real founder of the modern Democratic party, and yes, he deserves to be defined by much more than his single, disgraceful, incalculably harmful decision to persecute Native Americans. It is very possible, for example, that had Jackson not been in office, the Southern states would have seceded long before 1861, and no one would have stopped them. Trump should read “American Lion” by Jon Meachum as should anyone who is tempted to dismiss Andrew Jackson as a villain. He was a great American and the nation owes him honor and gratitude. As we dig deeper into the administrations of all of our Presidents, we find that none of them, even the best, were able to avoid actions and decisions that in retrospect were deplorable, deadly or disastrous. Jackson was no different. Part of why we honor these men is the courage it requires to accept such responsibility and the weight of making momentous, life-altering decisions. Nobody accepted that weight more boldly than Old Hickory.

5. Placing a woman, and African-American, and especially this African-American woman on a well-used bill isn’t “political correctness.” Everything that is popular with progressive interest groups isn’t just politically correct. Harriet Tubman was a great American too. Does Trump really know what opposing political correctness means? If something makes sense and is independently justifiable, does the fact it is applauded by the habitually political correct make it wrong?

6. Oh, nice, Donald: recommend that the first black and woman to be honored on a greenback be put on the $2 bill.  The bill historically  regarded as being unlucky. The bill associated with gambling and houses of prostitution. The bill that never gets used. This would certainly follow with the experience the Treasury has had with other doomed attempts to place women on currency nobody would use, like the Sacagawea dollar (now THAT was political correctness run wild) and the Susan B. Anthony dollar. And what other denomination? Would it be better to remove Washington, Lincoln, Franklin or Hamilton than Jackson? Are you suggesting a new denomination that nobody will use? A three dollar bill, perhaps, as in “phonier than”?

I don’t think Trump intended this comment to be insulting to African-Americans and women, but any sentient political should have known it would be before the statement traveled from his brain to his vocal cords and out his mouth.


CORRECTION: The original version of this post erroneously included a graphic of a bill with Sojourner Truth’s photo, rather than Tubman’s. Ethics Alarms apologizes to readers, and Harriet.

94 thoughts on “Observations On Donald Trump’s Harriet Tubman Comments

  1. I’m glad it’s Jackson getting bumped instead of Hamilton, as was originally planned. I always thought Jackson was a weird fit for a dollar bill – not so much for the racism, as he was a product of his time, as for his wild populism and hatred (and successful destruction) of the US Bank; the precursor to the Federal Reserve. If I remember my history correctly, his actions toward the pre-Fed caused an economic recession in his successor’s administration. Hamilton, on the other hand, was the first Treasury Secretary, and has more right to be on the currency he created than anyone.

  2. While Trump saying something stupid, other people are amused at the irony that this administration is dumping the founder of his party for a gun toting Republican. Hillary or Trump for a new three dollar bill?

    • You beat me to it. The rich irony of the left putting a genuine conservative republican hero on the bill is just delicious. What a woman she was! Modern-day extreme feminists would hate her if they knew her true history.

  3. Sorry to disagree with you, but Harriet Tubman belongs on a coin rather than currency. Although, she was very important to the anti-slavery movement and was a life long Republican, the tradition has been to put presidents on bills with the exception of Hamilton. Perhaps she could replace Sacajawea on the dollar coin. Jackson as you well know was extremely important to this country as a president and general.

    • Don’t forget the Benjamins. Those are some of my favorite bills. Fully a third of the six most popular bills are not presidents.

    • It’s seldom someone makes an assertion that is exactly the opposite of what the facts show. Take away the two women placed on the failed dollar coins, and every coin other than the Franklin half-dollar sported a President: Lincoln, FDR, Washington, Jefferson, Ike, JFK. The percentage of Presidents over non-Presidents is much higher for the coins, especially when one accepts that Grant is on the 50 primarily as a general, not as a President.

      • Well, as I can recall Grant was a two term president. Perhaps he wasn’t a great one but neither was Wilson who was on a high demoninaton bill and probably did more damage to this country that Grant. Tubman could be on a $2 coin as tribute to Obama’s massive deficit spending.

        • There were plenty of two-term Presidents that were better than Grant and recognized as such. Monroe, for example. And There is no indication that two terms made a difference in status. Madison, Adams and Polk were more important is governance progress than Grant. He remained a hero because of the Civil War. Wilson is on a bill, just one that isn’t in circulation any more.

      • These are part of what are know as the ‘Educational series” of bills, and they are hands down the most artistic bills the US ever produced. I would love to bring these back…

        • I’d be nice, we could even put it on the back of the five if people would really freak out about losing Lincoln on the front for ten years or however long.

    • I believe she also deserves at least 1 or 2 of our military’s highest awards, considering the direct-action missions she participated in, at great risk to life and limb.

  4. Washington, Lincoln, Franklin, Jackson, Hamilton, Grant, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Eisenhower are all major figures who changed the world (unless you view Kennedy as a nonentity, as I do, but I seem to hold a minority view). Tubman is a nice story but no more. Putting her on the $20 bill is an embarrassing, tacit admission that we can’t think of any genuinely important American women in history.

    • Agreed, there haven’t been enough women to make wide american culture impact, especially linked with the federal government. There will be a richer field someday, for most of our history women rarely went beyond support roles to get that respect. The government officials are the ones printing the bills, partly a celebration of greats in that field. I prefer someone who died some time back, so the choice is not a fad. I would have trouble coming up with ten candidates with name recognition and national/fderal influence before 1975.

    • All you are doing is stating that because Presidents were first chosen as the the primary individuals to be the face of the bills, Presidents are the only possible or reasonable choice. There is no reason why choices can’t be symbolic of basic cultural values, like rebellion against entrenched and abusive power (Tubman), civil rights (slavery), industry (Henry Ford), innovation (Thomas Edison),or creativity (Irving Berlin, Walt Disney…). Since women and blacks were largely blocked from positions of power, you are stating a Catch 22 that needn’t be continued. Would anything be dishonorable or inappropriate by having faces that represent individual Americans—from a culture that uniquely celebrates the power and independence of individuals—who accomplished a great deal in a specific field, or just an important single incident? Would you beef at Nathan Hale of Joshua Chamberlain on a bill? Why? I’d put Edna Gladney on a bill in a heartbeat, for example.

  5. 1) The comment he made telegraphed NUMEROUS messages to people who, like him, may not want to change the figures on the bills, and may not want any Black American on any bill. So, and at least to him and to them, what he said might be seen as ‘constructive’, and thus may have been appreciated by them and make him political hay. There is likely a large group of people who do see that the timing of this certainly looks like ‘applied political correctness’.

    2) “Is anyone really upset about Andrew Jackson being bumped to the back of the bill for Harriet Tubman?”

    Even if 1/2 of America – or 7/8ths (more likely) – does not have an adequate idea who the man was, nor know much in detail of the lives and activities of the presidents, it is not hard for me to see that they might still react against this change. The proposed change seems to fit into a pattern, and the pattern seems to move in the direction of something – what exactly? – that starts to look like revisionism. No, that’s not quite it. Knocking down one figure to then uphold another. It’s like tearing down statues because times have changed.

    3) To say ‘He’s been on the bill for many many years’ is one of those lines of dialogue that says more than it seems. It is a coded phrase which hold much content. It is not a meaningless coded statement, and it is directed to his audience, 2/3rds of the country (or something like that).

    5) I don’t know what to say. To take a contrary side feels like it might get me in hot water. If I had to choose, in this case, I’d make it a negotiated deal: She gets to go on a bill, on the front since there’d be hell if she was put on the back (headrests, etc. etc.), but some other bill gets Stonewall Jackson. You don’t get one without some other, and it has to be an unpopular other. (But no less relevant to some or many people.)

    Additional thought: A genocide bill of some sort. Little Big Horn taken as a motif in a nicely etched battle scene. Scalped yankees. Broken calumets de la paix.

    Possible mottos:

    ‘In Indian-Giving We Trust’

    ‘What once was theirs is now ours’.

    The Native American bill. The original ‘hands up don’t shoot’.

    (Still working on this one…)

        • “Their” who?

          Are you alluding to some mythical monolithic coast to coast tribe called “Native American”?

          Or do you mean “their” as in the over 100 tribes that had absolutely no concept of land ownership and saw the arrival of the first white colonists as “just another tribe”? And saw the landing of the colonists not as a “loss of territory” but a new factor to consider in negotiating inter-tribal politics & competition on an ever-changing and fluid landscape, where “possession of land” where it could be only LOOSELY described changed on a generational basis.

          • Tex, I know that you struggle with what I write, and I admit to many syntactical difficulties. Yet one reason I am not intelligible to you is less because my writing style is unperfected and odd, but more because you do not understand that I ‘inhabit’ a perspective somewhat like ‘putting it on’. And I shift between them.

            See, now you want to debate with me, as if it is my view that the Native American was one, sole owner of ‘their’ land, and certainly your point is interesting and considerable (the one you make in your rhetorical answer to your own question, encased in the question!)

            But I am speaking about the ways that some of these hot hot topics are viewed and understood, the way they are seen, and how these views (excuse the pun) become common currency. This means ‘visualized’, and that means ‘how they are held in the mind and consciousness’ and how they influence ‘how we see things’. This is metaphysics, a la Elizaveta.

            If you understand that I don’t recognize ‘facts’ so much as I recognize perceptions and how issues are framed, you will much better understand what I am on about.

            Remember: in my view the sheer essence of these questions, when imagination and framing are stripped away, is in ‘strict power principles’. I do not argue from an excluded middle. Don’t lie to me about your lofty ideologies and such, your structured views of history, your false-partiotism, your pious Americanism: I see through these. It is all about, and basically about, power-dynamics. The key to clarity is there.

            White men came to these American shores and brought about the annihilation of the native tribes. Annihilation (I mean mostly annihilated as some remain) was preferable to breeding with them as happened throughout the rest of the Americas, from Mexico on down. It is BECAUSE of this exclusion that America is what it is. What will destroy it (in my view) is inclusion. That destruction is occurring.

            The land that we stand on (American soil) is the land where that annihilation took place. And it HAD to take place. And ‘America’ is here BECAUSE it happened, and in exactly that way. No spin, no twist, no self-deception: straight fact.

            Getting inside THAT understanding, and allowing it to be a real and conscious part of our somatic self, our grasp of ourselves in time and in reality, is what I try to talk about. I suggest (by inference) a move away from certain points of view which are debilitating, and toward ones that are empowering. But empowering for ‘us’.

        • And to be clear, the land I ‘stand’ on currently, was on the border regions, an essential No-Indian’s-Land between Wichita tribe’s ever changing ‘range’, the Kiowa’s ever changing ‘range’, the Caddo’s ever changing ‘range’, the Tawakoni’s ever changing ‘range’, and the Comanche’s ever changing ‘range’…

        • Even they didn’t see the ground they walked on as their possession. The concept of private property was entirely new to them.

  6. I think the Tubman proposal is like the Garland nomination. Conservatives and rational people should just go with it.

  7. Obviously, I am the most confused person in all of Babylonian America. (Another bad joke: in the Rasta religion and music, very biblical-inspired, the condition and situation of the African is one of having been sold into slavery in Babylon).

    I stand – to quote Tex – ‘exactly’ in the middle between two narratives, two opposed positions, one which might be called the Master Narrative and the other, literally, the Slave Narrative. The ‘Master Narrative’ (a Nietzschean reference) defines America as the bold, Anglo-Saxon, idea-based nation that was founded and put into motion by white people, and white men, and represents the best and the most active and the most creative characteristics of European people. It essentially defines ‘us’; though as a Jew I fall outside of that ‘us’, and Jewish religious will (that which defines Jews if you really get down to the brass tacks) is thoroughly non-creative in that active Anglo-Saxon sense. In my own view we Jews, as long as we remain Jews, come along for the ride and we don’t initiate anything.

    On the other side of the coin, and it is a narrative that runs through all these conversations on many of these hot hot topics is, in essence, the Slave Narrative and ‘slave morality’. I think it must be clearly understood, and enunciated clearly, that this Narrative is the essence of the Jewish contribution. You know, ‘the transvaluation of values’ and all that ‘Nietzschean garbage’. Jewish metaphysics has given to Christianity all of its turn-against-the-grain steam. In essence, Tubman functioned within this narrative. Essentially, and to look at it critically, it is this Narrative that has INFECTED the American empire. That is, the momentum of the project of which America is a dirfect manifestation. I suggest that it is the Slave Narrative that will destroy the Republic, not liberate it, not make it ‘better’. This is a very hard fact to swallow but I think it is true. It is not easy to go into the tension in this dynamic, the contrast between two very different operational narratives, but it is very fruitful.

    Tubman did really nothing of consequence. She dedicated herself to a charity mission and got some people out of slavery. But let’s be hard here: so what? It certainly took a strong person and many positive things can be said about bravery and etc. But this is not an accomplishment. And yet it is presented as a great accomplishment, and one of the great contributions of Black Americans to America. Depending on where one desires to situate oneself – within a slave morality or within a master morality – will determine where you stand on this issue. The issue is metaphysical. It defines how you relate to existence and to the set of values you hold up (in hierarchical order) as being important, and the ones you desire to emulate.

    So, the whole question of Ethics is certainly brought to the front. If you have an ethic that has been influenced, or tainted, or overtaken, by slave morality, you will define all moves toward ‘liberation’ as being of high value. But if your ethic is established through active, bold, forceful pre-definitions (a warrior stance, an active-man’s stance, a great man stance, a powerful historical actor stance) you will recoil from the slave narratives.

    I have noticed that people tend to get angry (at me) when I express myself, and they don’t like it that I define things in this rather brusque, black and white way. I have tons of sympathy for them. The ‘narrative’ that functions in them is very powerful, as it is resentment (ressentiment in Nietzschean terms) that fuels the view, in large part. Turn against the powerful and the active, and value and sympathize with the disempowered, the lowly, the suffering ones.

    The Narratives that are now functioning today, with great power, are narratives that will and are undermine the Republic. They are right now doing that. One ‘liberation’ will lead to one more, and then (as I joked) the Republic must turn against itself and, essentially, self-consume.

    I have sketched this in binary and simplified form, but I really do (honestly) think there is an important truth presented here.

  8. “6. Oh, nice, Donald: recommend that the first black and woman to be honored on a greenback be put on the $2 bill. The bill historically regarded as being unlucky. The bill associated with gambling and houses of prostitution. The bill that never gets used.”

    Was that really a thing in America? Canada had a two dollar bill for more than a century before our treasury department opted for a two dollar coin. Why did they do it? The two dollar bill was wearing out because of the speed they would circulate, and the cost of making a coin was actually cheaper than replacing the bills. (The more you know, right?). If the American two dollar bill wasn’t used, it would show a kind of neat cultural difference.

  9. I love this change because I’m a fan of Harriet Tubman and now I’m actually a fan of changing every denomination to someone new every time there’s a redesign. Why just redesign the portraits of the same people over and over again? Makes no sense. Be bold. Be artistic! They do it with the quarters, let’s do it with the folding money!

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