Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito once joked that the late Antonin Scalia “wants to know what James Madison thought about video games.” We may never know the answer to that question, but I believe we can know what Madison thought about Trump.
Madison was the author and architect of our federal Constitution, which has endured for centuries unlike any other governmental legal system in human history. We are a nation built around- not race, not geography, but ideas. That has only worked, to the extent that it has, because Madison designed a government to withstand populist demagogues.
Madison was the opposite of everything Trump is. Where the Donald is born of New York skyscrapers, loud, big haired, 6’3”, camera hogging, supremely self-confident, insulter of people, and fond of building towers to himself, Madison was born of the quiet rolling hills of Virginia, quiet, bald, 5’5”, shy, crippled by anxiety, attacker of ideas, and doesn’t even have anything more than the 3rd building of the Library of Congress named after himself in Washington DC.
Madison wanted minorities protected at all costs, rejected anti-Semitism, and grappled with slavery. Trump used minorities and prejudice as stepping stones and has his security rough up protesters. Madison thought that good, enduring government must be complex, Trump is made for the oversimplified, sound bite, tweet world of 2016. Madison spent snowy winters in his upstairs library studying historical inflation crisis’ and the strengths and flaws of the Achaean League, Trump promises he will bring in Carl Icahn and the results will be amazing for the women or the Mexicans or the whoever.
Madison learned from four decades of public life, learned that diversity leads to challenge, which leads to truth and wisdom. Trump was a real estate developer, a profession which I used to call “slimy” but slime has asked not to be associated with those people. In 1783 Virginia and 2016 Utah there were those crusading behind Patrick Henry to oppose the Constitution, state resolutions demanding $1 million from the federal government… and those trying to govern the ungovernable, fighting for Hamiltonian union against state fracturing.
Madison wanted to succeed anonymously though his ideas, Trump wants you to blindly trust and swear allegiance to his personal greatness. Madison lost his first re-election because he wouldn’t bring the customary liquor to the polling place, he wanted a higher dignity in self-government. Trump will say and do anything to stay in the limelight. Madison found his passion in his conscience, Trump never lacked passion but has no conscience. Madison married late and once to a woman who invented the dignified role of First Lady, Trump married early and often and looks at his own daughter with lust.
Madison pushed the state to govern the passions and become the highest version of itself. Trump flatters the majority’s pride, ignorance, and arrogance. Madison had a wisdom borne of knowledge, humility, and experience, Trump taps into fears and self-interest. At the end of the day, Madison was a statesman who had the common good at heart. Trump is, as our best Congressman Chris Stewart put it, a petty would-be Mussolini.
As Shakespeare says, “the times seem to be out of joint.” But, in Madison’s America, the law is king. Trump is but the latest embodiment of an irrational, emotional, short term faction. There are some major hurdles between Trump and the oval office, many of which Madison placed there. I think he will lose in a route we haven’t seen since LBJ in 64, Nixon in 72, and Reagan in 84 should he be nominated.
Trump will be somewhere getting ratings in 2017, but Madison’s America will continue on. Professor Witherspoon, Madison’s mentor at Princeton, put it best “Every boaster is a coward. Men who think most are seldom talkative.”