News Record & Sentient, February 2020

I’d met with Madison once before.  That time, he mostly grumbled that history hasn’t given him a famous quote, while his nemesis, Patrick Henry, is remembered with a huge one.  But I noted a great line of his from that day: “The longer I’m dead, the thinner my skin.” 

Today, his straggly, stringy hair and baggy eyes gave him a ghastly look, nothing like his almost-handsome image on the $5000 bill.  He was a man deeply troubled.

He went right to the point.  “Four years of my life, Ballard!” he croaked, continuing (with some exaggeration): “My arguments dismantled the Articles of Confederation.  I gathered the Constitutional Convention.  I wrote the final draft.  I battled anti-constitution forces until our magnificent vision was reality.  And now this!”

I waited.  He pushed a newspaper toward me.  The headline read, “The GOP has caught autocratic fever.”  I knew of the polls.  Forty-three percent of Republicans now want fewer checks on Trump, double from a year ago. 

“They scorn your checks and balances, Mr. President,” I said.

“Republicans!  I’ve rejoiced with them from their beginnings.  I know their creed: ‘We support the Federalist System of Government,’ it says.  They’ve always opposed centralized power!”

“You feared monarchy, didn’t you?” I asked.

“We did!  We knew history.  Our government would have separation of powers.  No monarchy for America!  And Republicans have always believed with us.  Now, betrayal!” 

“Many religious leaders, evangelicals, want the current president to have unchecked power so he can remake America into what they call a ‘Christian nation,’” I said.

“Ha!  Let them study Oliver Cromwell!” Madison thundered. 

“Actually, sir, many see Cromwell as their role model.”

“Incredible!  We took nothing from Cromwell for our new government!  We saw one important lesson from Cromwell:  when absolute power is given, you cannot predict how it will be used, or control it afterwards.  Cromwell slaughter 5,000 Catholics in Ireland, shut down Parliament when they debated his constitution and forced every adult to swear allegiance to his government.” 

He paused.  “Is that what evangelicals want, Trump as Cromwell?”

“Their leaders call him ‘chosen,’ like Cromwell,” I said.

Madison spoke slowly: “Cromwell was sincere.  He believed he was doing God’s will, even in genocide.  Trump is a fraud.  He’s using evangelicals for his reelection.  If he’s successful, he’ll treat them like common rubbish.”

“That’s Trump all right,” I said.