|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!”