Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

History will judge our times

Daily Planet, August 2018

When now is history, I’ll be dead and gone.

And, man, I’d really love to know what’s going to be said and written, say, 50 years from now about the days we’re in now. Things happen every day that have never happened before.

Superficially, history tells us how things turned out. Richard Nixon resigned August 9, 1974.  But with the passage of time, historians have described the details that brought him down.

Our own superficial history begins on November 8, 2016, and every day we strain to try and figure how things will turn out.

North Carolina in the spring of 1861 was like our time today. Several southern states had seceded from the Union but not North Carolina.  Our General Assembly was opposed to secession.  A referendum to hold a convention to consider secession was voted down.  Only plantation centers in Eastern Carolina were in favor.  A Wilmington newspaper editorialized that “South Carolina has been nothing but trouble from the beginning.  We must not follow them.”

But when President Lincoln called for North Carolina to give troops to help put down the rebellion in other Southern states, everything changed. The North Carolina History Project tells of Zebulon Vance at the moment he heard about Lincoln’s troop request: “With arms upraised, (Vance) was pleading for the preservation of the Union: ‘When my hand came down from that impassioned gesticulation,’ he said, ‘it fell slowly and sadly by the side of a secessionist.’”

North Carolina, and WNC in particular, had no enthusiasm for secession. And many who voted for secession in the convention knew the Confederacy would destroy the South.  And it’s telling that after the vote for secession, the convention also voted not to put the question to the people in another referendum.

It all came down to decisions. When leaders make decisions, they bring good or ill for their people.  Our state’s leaders’ decision to go with Southern neighbors over the Union (for reasons I can’t understand) was terrible.  In the end, reluctant North Carolina contributed more men and supplies to the Confederacy than any other state, and we suffered more casualties.

If we put ourselves back in 1861, reading a newspaper, we can feel their anger, their fears, their bewilderment. What’s wrong with those people we sent to Raleigh?

Almost precisely what we feel right now about our government in Washington.

One-third of Americans are so loyal to President Trump that they support him even when he says and does things that are not in our national interest. They believe his obvious lies. They trust him when corruption is all around him.  And their devotion scares Republican lawmakers out of their wits – and their Constitutional responsibilities.

We’re bewildered. Like our forefathers in 1861, we’re angry and often pessimistic.  We think of great nations that have fallen from within.

People in 1861 were right to worry. Their leaders would make the horrendous decision to secede.   And we are right to worry about the decision that Republicans have made not to check President Trump.  Their timidity is shameful by any measure.

We look with hope to November and a possible Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives. If they control House committees, they can call for answers.  They can change Washington.

The Mueller Report will tell us a lot about criminals and traitors. History will tell us everything.  Is Republican silence and inaction out of fear of their constituents, as supposed, or are they really hoping that Russian interference will rescue them in November?  Historians will find out.  Is President Trump’s irrationality from senility?  Or will they find he has no American patriotism, only his self-interest?

Will spineless D.C. Republicans be consigned to the same rubbish heap as those who didn’t confront slavery in the Nineteenth Century? Will Limbaugh and Fox News be a laughing stock?  Will Trump’s one-third stay with him if thick turns to thin?  Who will be seen as heroes of our democracy?

I’d love to know. My grandchildren will.

“Enabling” Trump

July 11, 2018

In March of 1933, Germany’s Reichstag parliament voted itself out of business. They – the legislative branch – passed the Enabling Act that gave the executive branch – Adolf Hitler – total power.  By summer, all non-Nazi parties were banned, leftist party leaders were imprisoned and the army had pledged loyalty to Hitler personally.

I have been optimistic that Donald Trump’s shadow will pass away with no lasting impact on our democracy. That was before three recent 5-4 partisan decisions by the Supreme Court and the resignation of Justice Kennedy.  This new Court, with a new Trump appointee, can’t be trusted to be a constitutional check.

And what if Republicans win November elections? Will this GOP Congress be any kind of check on the man who pulled them through?

One other thing: the Enabling Act happened because of the “national emergency” when the Reichstag was mysteriously torched.  Do we think our president would shy away from creating an emergency?

The only sho-nuff check on Trump’s authoritarianism is a Democratic House of Representatives – not for impeachment but for majorities in crucial committees that oversee the Executive Branch. The big election is November 3rd.  We, and everybody we know, must vote.  Every Republican is vulnerable.

History will judge McConnell]

July 1, 2017   [Reprinted now because of McConnell’s new antics]

History rarely makes note of Senate Majority Leaders. Henry Cabot Lodge broke through into history because he squelched America’s joining the League of Nations.

In a future time, Mitch McConnell’s weak double chin will illustrate a section in history titled, “Congress Ceases to Function.” History will give some detail: how Democrats followed long tradition and worked with George W. Bush on his tax cut bill, even though they disapproved, to make it better – and then how McConnell shut down the legislative process right after the 2010 election, when Democrats no longer had a filibuster-proof majority.

McConnell held the filibuster as a constant threat to anything President Obama wanted to do, so nothing got done. He chose to obstruct rather than compromise. He refused Obama’s call for a bipartisan reaction to Russia’s meddling before the last election.

But wait! There’s an alternative history. Democrats could take over the Senate in 2020 – possible, even likely – and McConnell’s place in history will fade away as Democrats reinstate bipartisanship..

Or the recent drubbing of McConnell’s no-compromise healthcare bill could lead to Bipartisan Now, a mutiny of right-minded Republicans joining right-minded Democrats who shame the partisans on both sides and find a historic solution.

Wisdom isn’t welcome among us

Daily Planet, July 2018

The only light in the one-room house was a tiny flame that bounced on a kerosene wick lamp.  The door and windows were shut against the night.  The cook fire in the far corner sent a slow thread of smoke up to the thatched roof, where it broke into countless fingers, each probing a way to escape.  The 13 men seated along the walls were smoking their usual blend of tobacco and guava leaves.  I closed my burning eyes and relied on my ears to tell me who was speaking.

These were the nankedakay, “the old men,” the elders, gathered to “level out” a dispute in the community.  I was included, they joked, as the potent cup of rice beer made its rounds, because I had “the forehead of an old man.”

They needed no light.  Most of them were barely literate, and besides, the local brand of justice required no documents.  The facts of the case were known to everyone in this village of 35 houses.  Everyone knew precedent cases.  And the record of their decision would be stored in the remarkable memories of the participants.

The owner of the house where we were gathered had died the week before and, by tradition, all his property – rice paddies, coffee groves, banana patches and animals, if any – was to be divided equally among his three children.  But the younger son protested.  He had cared for their father during his final months, he said, and besides (he added in quiet tones to the elders), he had raised the pig that fed the guests at their father’s funeral.

I witnessed cases that took so long for consensus that the elders had to send out for another jar of rice beer.  This one did not.  The elders awarded the younger son a small paddy down by the river that otherwise would have gone to his sister – who, the elders noted, had only seldom visited her father during his illness.  The sibling disagreement was over.

This incident took place 54 years ago in the Philippines.  As a young missionary linguist describing this mountain language, I was specially privileged:  I observed Wisdom in all her glory.

Wisdom has been much on my mind lately.  Maybe it’s like money:  you don’t think about it until there isn’t any.

The elders in my Philippine village had the ability to draw broad lessons from a deep well of life experience.  Together, they applied an informed common sense, for the benefit of their community.

Their kind of wise leadership is not welcome among us today.  Our leaders have developed a value system that shuts out wisdom – a horribly virulent strain of greed for power and more power.  Wisdom cannot breathe that kind of selfish air.

America has known wise leadership.  Abraham Lincoln knew that Reconstruction had to be a national healing.  FDR gave security to the common man.  They saw a long view beyond their immediate problems.

I wonder if Trump supporters weren’t looking for this kind of leadership in 2016 – someone they could trust to shake things up for the better.  If so, they didn’t get it.  To him, collective wisdom is a wimp.  He’s guided by his gut, his daily whims.  He has no long vision, only the four month until November’s elections.  The Washington swamp is now a cesspool of crony criminals.  Everything he does – and I repeat, everything – is to enhance his own position, especially with his faithful.

And I will declare ditto for the arrogant, gerrymandered Republicans in Raleigh.

We will soon be looking for new leadership.  Our next president must be wise.  He or she must not pander to the short-term selfishness of our time.  They should talk of long-term – no, eternal – principle.

I notice Democrats looking for charisma.  How often does glamor and wisdom coexist in a person?  Two of our wisest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman, succeeded to the office by a president’s death, not by election.  I pray for somebody who will beat Trump – but not just anybody.

Is there wisdom in what I say here?  You judge.


“He’s just like us”

Citizen-Times, June 4 2018

The Fox News reporter (Todd Piro, I think) gathered some Trump voters in a South Carolina cafe. He asked them about their support for President Trump.  In her turn, the lady on his left said, “He’s just like us.”

What? A New York slicker just like rock solid Carolinians?

It’s a great mystery. The lady knows from life experience that certain people play roles to get what they want:  salesmen, lover boys, swindlers and yes, politicians.  They bait the hook and watch the bobber.

But she doesn’t recognize Trump as one of them.

When Trump first thought of politics, he identified a big block of Americans who were unhappy, even angry, about many things. This group was his target.

Somewhere there’s a list in Trump’s handwriting – things this target group hates: Obama, the Clintons, liberals, gun laws, political correctness, unpatriotism, taxes, illegal immigrants.  Someday the list will be in the Smithsonian.

He started in 2011 as the Big Birther. Of course he knew Obama was born in the U.S.  It was sweet baith for the hook.

Campaign speeches gushed with targeted promises – to repeal everything Obama, stomp on Washington, make America great.

And the salesman makes his sale – every day.


Cromwell-Trump: the same man

Daily Planet, June 2018

Oliver Cromwell was an accident of history.

So is Donald Trump.

Cromwell was an obscure farmer.  Trump was a personality known to every American.  Different beginnings – but the same man inside.

Cromwell was a Member of Parliament when the English Civil War – Parliament against King Charles – broke out in 1642.  He recruited a cavalry regiment – and he turned out to be a military genius.  When Parliament reorgamized its army, Cromwell was made second in command.  As luck would have it, the number-one guy resigned, and there was Cromwell at thehead of what was now a powerful, modern, well-organized army.

Trump lived in New York neon as “The Donald” long before he began haunting reality TV in 2004.  Most Americans regarded him as a buffoon, but to a big chunk of his audience, he was the man we need to straighten things out.  He was a very unlikely politician, but there he is, at the head of the United States government – and, not incidentally, its army.

A couple of years after the Civil War, Cromwell got tired of Parliament.  One day he walked into their hall with soldiers, gave a little dismissal speech and emptied the house.  He ruled England as a military dictatorship for five years, until his death from malaria.  Once Cromwell got power, the dictator part came naturally.

It is often said that Trump considers himself his best strategist.  He trusts his instincts over the advice of experts.  He openly admires dictators in other countries.  He regards national law enforcement – the Justice Department – as his personal tool. You have to wonder what might happen if he had a docile Defense Secretary.

Two men in two periods of history but the same man – dictator and wannabe dictator.

And then there’s religion.  Just like Trump has his faithful evangelical Christians, Cromwell had his Puritans.  And the parallel continues.

Puritans were called Puritans – in 17th-century England – because they wanted the Church of England to “purify” itself of everything Catholic and become like the Scottish Presbyterians.  Their goals were really political, not religious (even though they called themselves “the godly”).  They were the backbone of Cromwell’s support.  They backed him, no matter what.

And Cromwell’s “what” got nasty.  He sent an invasion force into Ireland on what amounted to a genocide mission.  The invasion resulted in the deaths of almost half of the Irish population, from massacre, disease and starvation.  Hundreds of thousands of Irish women and children, and Catholic priests, were sent to the Caribbean as slaves.  And Irish lands were confiscted and resettled.

None of this affected the Puritans’ loyalty to Cromwell.  He was, after all, ridding England of Catholics, and that’s what they cared about.

And now, 360 years later, American evangelicals are loyal to Trump, no matter what.  And Trump’s “what” includes everything their faith says they should despise.  He’s a liar, adulterer, bully.  He never repents.  He uses his power to further enrich himself.  He maintains no loyalties – perhaps even to his country.

Cromwell’s Puritans were, first and foremost, political.  But it should be noted that when they had legislative power in the short-lived Commonwealth after the Civil War, they passed religious laws, like an Adultery Act that gave death sentences for incest and adultery and three months in prisonfor fornication.  They also put curbs on more extremist groups like Quakers, by issuing licenses to preach.  And they relieved Puritans from an old requirement that everybody attend Church of England services.

One of the big reasons evangelicals stay with Trump is to turn our court system toward goals they favor, like banning abortions and reversing the trends toward homosexual rights, plus some oldies like school prayer and public religious displays. They stay on Trump’s stinky road to get there.

Cromwell and Trump are the same man, and their followers are a lot alike, too:  political interest groups that want, fiercely want, society to be refashioned to their wishes.

Oh well, England survived Cromwell.  Dare we hope?



Can’t you see the morning after

Daily Planet, May 2018

My wife doesn’t complain when I sing around the house. In fact, I think she gauges my mood by my songs.  For a few days now, I’ve been singing Maureen McGovern’s powerful #1 hit from 1973:

There’s got to be a morning after
If we can hold on through the night
We have a chance to find the sunshine
Let’s keep on lookin’ for the light

My wife knows all too well the sad plight of national and North Carolina politics. I think she wonders at the sound of my optimism.

The Washington swamp that Donald Trump promised to drain has instead become a sewage retaining pond. He’s desperate to stop investigations into the secret sins of his sorry life, while scandals among his people pop like Chinese firecrackers.  Sewage sludge might be too tame an analogy.

For perspective, the Teapot Dome Scandal of the early 1920s, the worst before Watergate, was run-of-the-mill bribery. President Harding’s interior secretary leased oil reserves to Sinclair Oil on favorable, but legal, terms – except that he got big money in the deal.  Teapot Dome wouldn’t even make front pages today.

Meanwhile, our Republican Congress gives huge tax breaks to big corporations, promising they will pass on profits to their employees, and instead they buy back their stock and employee wages don’t rise.

And here in North Carolina, we’ve watched Republicans trash our schools, our environment and our elections for seven years – reduced to watching because gerrymandering makes our votes worthless.

We’re not shrugging. We’re enraged.  The vision of our Founding Fathers stood strong for 230 years.  Now, so quickly, in Washington and Raleigh, we feel democracy slipping away.

Doom and gloom? No.  Let’s continue on with my song:

Oh, can’t you see the morning after
It’s waiting right outside the storm…
It’s not too late, we should be giving
Only with love can we climb
It’s not too late, not while we’re living
Let’s put our hands out in time

I embrace Maureen McGovern’s prophecy for our time. “It’s not too late!”

All the Washington garbage, all the Raleigh garbage, there’s a landfill for all of it. What Trump has done can be undone. All the gnarly devices Raleigh Republicans used to seize and keep power can be straightened into fresh democracy.

This trash pickup is inevitable. It will happen.  And the reason is us. Us!  We’re voters who will vote, but we’re more than that.  We’re heirs to the irrepressible American spirit that goes back to our beginnings – the spirit of freedom and fairness that resisted King George, the spirit the Founding Fathers assumed would be in us forever when they designed our government.  And now, we, the people, say to those who would corrupt and disdain it, “Enough!”

Democrats will win this year and in 2020, in part, because they’re not Republicans. We can hope they will govern precisely as Republicans have not governed – with fairness and humility.  We can hope they will resist divisive ideology.  We can hope they will resist the grasping hand of power.

I have a wild hope that Democrats, in Washington and in the states, will require our representatives to attend seminars on our nation’s founding principles. Maureen McGovern uses the word “love.”  That may be asking too much.  But let’s remember that convention delegates in Philadelphia in 1787 crafted our magnificent Constitution, through compromise, in spite of their differences, because they believed in America.

I can see the “morning after, bright and beautiful. It’s out there waiting for patriots like us to “put our hands [to work] in time.”


Fame with lower-case f

Asheville Daily Planet, April 2018

I don’t think most of us want to be famous. I don’t think we envy – I hate this word – celebrities.

Sure, we enjoy being called by name by a bank teller or known as having a lovely garden. It’s like the theme to “Cheers”:  “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.”

But there are people who really do seek it. They go to Hollywood and New York, and some go to bizarre lengths– like going on “Family Feud” or running for public office.

Time scrubs away fame, anyway. I’m guessing that a majority of my readers here cannot name Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.  And Jack Kemp was a great pro quarterback and member of Congress.

No, there’s only one way to gain real fame.  It cannot be sought after or achieved.  It has to be bestowed.  True fame, you see, comes only when a name becomes part of the language.  You’ve arrived  when your name is used as a common noun.

Henry Shrapnel invented an artillery shell that exploded in the air and showers the enemy with deadly pellets. In a twist of fate, the fragments got his name, not the artillery shell itself.  If the reverse had been true, Shrapnel would have remained a proper noun, like poor Gaston Glock and Richard Jordan Gatling, whose names are capitalized.

Charles Cunningham Boycott was the land agent for an absentee English earl in Ireland in 1880, when the earl ordered widespread evictions over rents. The locals organized against Boycott.  All workers in the earl’s house and all farm laborers resigned, and shopkeepers wouldn’t sell to him.  Mail delivery was cut off.  Newspapers started using “boycott” as a verb almost immediately.  C.C. Boycott was in the wrong job in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Charles Lynch headed a county court during the American Revolution. Tories were commonly imprisoned, but Lynch reasoned that in wartime, juries were unnecessary.

Texas land baron Sam Maverick received 400 head of cattle in payment of a debt. Breaking tradition, he didn’t bother to brand them, and they came to be known as “mavericks.”  That meaning has extended to unorthodox people.

These men rest in lower-case peace. So do Nicolas Chauvin (chauvinist), Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, James Watt, Luigi Galvani (galvanize), John Duns Scotus (dunce), Marquis de Sade (sadistic). By contrast, Charles Ponzi , Sylvester Graham (cracker) and John. B. Stetson still carry the capital-letter millstone around their names.

Now our curiosity kicks in, doesn’t it? We can’t be content that these past-tense people were awarded permanent fame in our present-tense language.  We want to sneak a peek at the new words included in future updates of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  And of course the entries we will look for are the men history will call “The Calamitrio”:  Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

I think we would see in our peek at OED updates that “Trump” never appears as a new listing, and for that, I blame his grandfather. It was Gramps who ditched the family’s original name, Drumpf.  “Trump” is an existing English word, and existing definitions don’t yield easily – except “awesome.”

We would see that common-noun “ryan” appears first in the 2020 OED update. An article explains that it slid into English beside “skunk” and pretty much replaced “weasel.”  It has a cowardly, cringing connotation.  The example cited:  “We believed he would be tough in negotiations, but he turned out to be a ryan.”

And we would actually learn through the OED updates that history will view Mitch McConnell, in his last years as GOP Senate leader, as a zero, a non-player. His eponym draws its meaning from the eight years of Barack Obama.  A “mccnnell” will be described as an obstruction, wherever one occurs.  The exmple given:  “His intense abdomenal pain turned out to be a full-blown bowel mcconnell.”


Evangelicals through the years

Asheville Daily Planet, March 2018

Movements don’t stand still. Maybe that’s why they’re called movements.  The players change, positions shift.

Evangelicalism is a case in point. So is Republicanism.  So is conservatism.  So, too, is Christianity.

This is a story about moving movements and the wiggly words that ae used to define them – words out of today’s newspapers.

When I graduated from conservative Christian Wheaton College (60 years ago in May), I considered myself a conservative Evangelical Christian Republican.

Wheaton saw itself as descended from the Evangelical “Great Awakenings” of the mid-1700s. That means a conversion experience, an ongoing relationship with Christ and spreading the Gospel.  Indeed, fellow alumnus Billy Graham (’43) was nearing his peak.

There was an intellectual air about the place – but over and under everything was the strict authority of the Bible. There was palpable fear that Wheaton would go the way of other great Christian colleges, like Princeton and Oberlin, into “modernism.”  The word “conservative” means “wanting the established order,” and we did.

There was no political component. A guy named Clyde Taylor, with the National Association of Evangelicals, came to campus urging us to enter politics to influence the world.  I don’t remember a stir.

We were Republican, I think, because they were a northern conservative party – where Evangelicals were at the time. But we weren’t involved with them.

On the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Republicans voted in favor: 136-35 in the House and 27-6 in the Senate.  But Wheaton had no social action component at the time. Brown v. Board of Education had just come down, but I don’t recall one word, pro or con, about civil rights.

Ah, movements do move. When Wheaton was founded in 1860 by abolitionist Jonathan Blanchard, “conservatives” of his day were pro-slavery.  He modeled his new college after far-out radical Oberlin College. Wheaton was a stop on the Underground Railway, and Blanchard housed African-American students in his home.  Blanchard’s Wheaton was equal parts radical social reform and strict Evangelical Christian faith.

But in the 20th century, Protestant Christianity fragmented – between those who embraced the critical study of the Bible and “Fundamentalists,” like Bob Jones, who took up the fight (their term) against them.

It is important to note for our story that Fundamentalists were only concerned with theology. They weren’t sputtering over FDR’s “Socialism” like Republicans were.

The National Association of Evangelicals formed in 1942 to serve denominations that were neither Fundamentalist nor modernist. But Wheaton was toying with the term, “Neo-Evangelical,” so straight “Evangelical” must have had drawbacks.

I was studying in a conservative Presbyterian seminary in the mid-1960s as Protestant Christianity in America wrangled over “doctrinal purity.” I watched a more conservative Presbyterian group split off from us, mainly over our not being “separate” enough.

The stage was set for the huge upheavals of the 1970s that so powerfully influence American politics today.

The first seismic event came in January, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade by a 7-2 vote. Abortion had been an issue.  Now it was Number One.

Then in 1976, the IRS withdrew tax-exempt status from Bob Jones University for institutional racism. The government was persecuting Fundamentalists.

Then came the famous meeting in 1979 between Fundamentalist leader Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, founded of the conservative Heritage Foundation.  Falwell was challenged to become active with Republicans. Weyrich even gave Falwell the name, Moral Majority.  Ronald Reagan’s candidacy made it official:  Fundamentalist  Evangelicals thereafter have been all-out Republicans.

I was at a Texas state Republican convention in the 1980s (selling political merchandise) when conservative Christians took over the state Party. They had worked their way up from precinct meetings to become delegates.  (They didn’t buy Republican merchandise!)

Now we see clumps of men at Roy Moore headquaters on election night, their heads bowed, praying for a miracle that will stop a Democrat from winning. And we hear Franklin Graham praising Donald Trump.

But then we read a poll in the Wheaton student newspaper that 43 percent of Wheaton students voted for Hillary Clinton while 26 percent voted for Trump. One has to wonder how the vote went at Bob Jones University.

The Trump era makes us wonder about a lot of things, doesn’t it?

Madison warns us about Trump

In dream, Madison warns of Trump threat
Asheville Daily Planet, February 2018 

The James Madison who met me in Barley’s did not appear as the great man of history.

He was more a character from Charles Dickens. Old now, his long, stringy, grey hair thankfully distracted from his pinched, ax-blade face. His clothes, clearly an effort at 21st century, looked like he’d slept in them for 200 years.

I rose to shake his hand, and he began speaking immediately: “You’re not my first choice, Mr. Ballard. I contacted The New York Times, but they thought me an eccentric. I’m told your readership is smaller but similar to theirs and equally as astute and decisive to America’s future.”

I nodded. It’s true.

Madison continued: “In 1787, I published words that have come to be prophetic.”

He produced a yellowed document and fixed his spectacles in place. “Federalist Number 10,” he said and cleared his throat.  ‘The hope is that [those elected by the people] will be a refined segment of society that will be patriotic and just, chosen due to their virtues. Thus, they will be less likely to sacrifice the public good to their own interests.’”

He raised a bony finger and continued with emphasis: “But, on the other hand, the reverse could happen. People of sinister designs might wangle their way into office.”

I gave a soft whistle.  He looked up at me. I knew exactly why he had come.

“You are living in a crisis time for our Republic,” he said.

“Trump,” I said, not as a question.

Madison nodded once. “In our discussions around the Constitution, we feared precisely this kind of man. Some naysayers quoted Alexander Tyler that ‘democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.’  We persevered.” Then Madison noticeably tensed. “Our fears were realized at the end of my life,” he said, his eyes glowing like Christopher Lloyd’s in “Back to the Future.”

“Andrew Jackson,” I said, not as a question.

“Yes,” he hissed. “I was 80 years old.  I lived to see it. The new generation scoffed at all we had built. That arrogant oaf!  He disdained the judiciary on the matter of Indian removal to the West, even jesting, ‘John Marshall made his decision; now let him enforce it.’”

After a moment, Madison continued: “After the War [of 1812], I did indeed advocate a stronger executive and a stronger military. Jackson dined in my home. I saw him as an ally. He was a snake, a blackguard!”

After a long pause, I said, “It was easy, wasn’t it, Mr. President? Jackson simply refused to enforce the court’s decision. Congress feared his popularity. Your checks and balances failed.”

Madison said, “I remember the cartoon of Jackson wearing a king’s crown, trampling the Constitution. Yes, Jackson was forthright. He was above the Constitution.  He was hot-tempered. He held grudges forever. He believed himself infallible. He allowed no dissenting opinions. The man we feared was in office!”

His eyes darted from 1830 to 2018 in a flash and took on wry humor for the only time in our conversation. “Remind you of anyone, Mr. Ballard?”

I smiled. The answer was obvious.  Trump was the reason for his visit.

“The Republic survived Jackson,” he said. “Can it survive Trump?” His eyes fixed mine with great intensity.

He expected an answer, and yet he knew the answer. The man obviously follows the news of the day.

“Can we?” I began. “Yes, we can. But will we?” Madison nodded. “Checks and balances are there, still in your Constitution, Mr. President. But there they sit.  Trump is taking over federal law enforcement and prosecutors. He snorts disdain at the judiciary. He threatens the press. Congress cringes in fear of his followers.  Who knows what the conservative Supreme Court will do. But if Democrats retake Congress this year….”

Madison put a hand on my shoulder:  “Then you must write, Ballard! Write!  And all your literate comrades! Rouse the people from their indifference!”

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