MetroFocus

HISTORIAN JON MEACHAM

Transcript

>> KU KLUX KLAN MARCHING
THROUGH COLLEGE CAMPUSES WITH
TORCHES IN HAND WAS ONE OF THE
MOST DISTURBING IMAGES WE HAVE
SEEN IN MANY TIMES.
JON MEACHAM, THE VIOLENCE THAT
UNFOLDED IN CHARLOTTESVILLE
SERVED AS A REMINDER OF TIMES
GONE BY WHEN PRESIDENTS REFUSED
TO CATER TO SUCH MOBS AND
CONQUERED THEM WITH A BREATH OF
VISION THAT SPEAKS TO THE BEST
PARTS OF OUR SOUL.
IT SERVES AS A CATALYST FOR HIS
BOOK, "THE SOUL OF AMERICA, THE
BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER ANGELS"
WHEN HOPE OVERCAME DIVISION AND
FEAR.
JON MEACHAM JOINS US NOW.
WELCOME BACK HOME.
>> THANK YOU.
>> THIS IS STUDIO YOU
INAUGURATED A FEW YEARS BACK,
MARIANNA HOSSA.
SO GOOD TO SEE YOU.
>> THANK YOU.
>> LET ME START WITH THE OBVIOUS
QUESTION.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT
CHARLOTTESVILLE AND THE
PRESIDENT'S RESPONSE TO IT THAT
LED TO THIS BOOK?
>> THE IDEA THAT THE PRESIDENT
OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD SAY
THERE WAS BLAME ON MANY SIDES
WHEN A YOUNG COUNTER PROTESTER
STANDING UP AGAINST KLANSMEN AND
WHITE NATIONALISTS WAS KILLED,
HEATHER HEYER, AND TWO STATE
TROOPERS, WERE CASUALTIES OF A
VIOLENT WAR.
THERE'S ALWAYS FEAR AND
VIOLENCE, PART OF A FALLEN
WORLD.
AT OUR BEST, PRESIDENTS HAVE
REMINDED US OF OUR BETTER ANGELS
AND NOT CATERED TO OUR WORST
INSTINCTS.
IT WAS VERY CLASSIFIED
INFORMATION TO ME IN
CHARLOTTESVILLE, DONALD TRUMP
WAS USING A TRAGIC HOUR TO
PANDER TO PARTS OF HIS OWN BASE.
>> WE'LL GET TO THAT IN ONE
SECOND.
THE TITLE OF THE BOOK, "THE SOUL
OF AMERICA."
DO COUNTRIES HAVE SOULS?
>> I THINK SO.
FOR A PAGAN PHILOSOPHICAL IDEA
AND RELIGIOUS ONE.
SOUL IN HEBREW AND GREEK CAN BE
TRANSLATED AS LIFE.
SOCRATES ASKED, WHAT MAKES A
PERSON A PERSON AND HIS ANSWER
WAS, A SOUL.
IT'S NOT HOWEVER, A LOT OF
FOURTH OF JULY ITERATIONS AND
QUICK THINGS SAID, WELL, OUR
SOUL IS ALWAYS GOOD, WHAT I
AGREE WITH IT IS.
MY SENSE IS THE AMERICAN SOUL
HAS ROOM FOR DR. KING AND THE
KKK, AND EVERY ERA IS DEFINED BY
WHICH OF THOSE TWO WINS OUT FOR
A GIVEN PERIOD OF TIME.
IT'S A PERENNIAL STRUGGLE.
IT'S NOT A MISTAKE, NOT AN
ACCIDENT THE FOUNDERS SAID WE
ARE SEARCHING FOR A MORE PERFECT
UNION, NOT A PERFECT ONE.
PRESIDENTS HAVE, AT THEIR BEST,
MANAGED TO MARSHAL THE VOICES OF
THE POWERLESS, PROTESTERS,
RESISTERS, SUFFER RAJJISTS,
PEOPLE WHO FOUGHT AGAINST JIM
CROW AND MARRIAGE EQUALITY, ALL
THOSE MOVEMENTS BEGAN FAR FROM
THE PINNACLE OF POWER.
IT HAS REQUIRED A PRESIDENT AND
CONGRESS AND COURT AND PRESS, TO
RECOGNIZE THOSE VOICES AND PUT
THEM INTO POLITICAL ACTION.
>> THE BATTLE FOR OUR BETTER
ANGELS, THAT PERENNIAL STRUGGLE
YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT CAN BE
BOILED DOWN TO A BATTLE BETWEEN
FEAR AND HOPE, RIGHT?
>> ABSOLUTELY.
FEAR, AS EDINBURGH SAID, THERE'S
NOTHING MORE IRRATIONAL THAN
FEAR.
ST. AUGUSTINE DESCRIBED FEAR AS
ANXIETY WE WON'T HAVE WHAT WE
LOVE.
WE'RE IN AN HOUR TODAY BECAUSE
OF GLOBALIZATIONS AND STAGNANT
WAGES AND INCOMES, THERE ARE AN
ENORMOUS NUMBER OF PEOPLE FEAR
THE WAY OF LIFE THEY KNOW WILL
GO AWAY.
THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME THIS
HAPPENED.
IT HAPPENED IN THE EARLY 1920s
WITH 50,000 KLANSMEN MARCHING
DOWN PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE AND IN
THE '50s, AGAINST COMMUNISTS.
FEAR IS A PERENNIAL FORCE.
WE PUSHED AHEAD AND TO ME, IT IS
DEFINED TO WHAT EXTENT WE ARE
WILLING TO WIDEN THE DEFINITION
BY THE FOUNDING IDEA WE ARE ALL
CREATED EQUAL.
>> YOU CLEARLY BELIEVE THE ROLE
OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT IS A
MORAL LEADER?
>> ABSOLUTELY.
EQUALLY IF NOT MORE IMPORTANT
THAN HIS ROLE AS CEO OF THE
COUNTRY, RIGHT?
>> ABSOLUTELY.
>> THE BULK OF THE BOOK IS
REFERENCING BACK TO DARK MOMENTS
IN AMERICAN HISTORY, WHERE
USUALLY FROM THE PRODUCING OF
PEOPLE, REFORMERS OUTSIDE OF
GOVERNMENTS THE PRESIDENTS RISE
UP TO THE MOMENTS AND WIN FOR
THE ANGELS.
GIVE US SOME EXAMPLES.
>> FIRST IS LYNDON JOHNSON.
>> TERRIFIC.
>> A WHITE SOUTHERN SENATOR AND
NOT A CHAMPION OF CIVIL RIGHTS,
HIS ELECTION AS VICE PRESIDENT
HAD A REAL IMPACT ON HIM.
HE GAVE A SPEECH AT GETTYSBURG,
5 OR 6 MONTHS AFTER HE BECAME
PRESIDENT AFTER THE TRAGEDY IN
DALLAS HE LAID OUT THE
UNFINISHED WORK OF LINCOLN, AND
HE DECIDED THE NIGHT OF
KENNEDY'S ASSASSINATION HE WOULD
NOT COMPROMISE ON THE CIVIL
RIGHTS BILL AND PUSHED IT TO
VOTING RIGHTS.
THE MARVELOUS SCENE, THIS
CAPTURES ALL OF IT.
WHERE WE ARE NOW IS LIKE GEORGE
WALLACE BECAME PRESIDENT,
ROUGHLY WHERE WE ARE, A RIGHT
WING POP YOU LIST WHO DID
REPRESENT GENUINE CONCERNS, AS
YOU SAY, THAT ECONOMIC MESSAGE
WAS FRAIDED WITH A RACIALLY AND
CULTURALLY DIVISIVE ONE THAT
ULTIMATELY ERODED HOPE.
WALLACE WON'T LET THE MARCHERS
GO FROM SELMA TO MONTGOMERY, THE
BLAZE SUNDAY STANDOFF WITH JOHN
LEWIS AND JOSEA WILLIAMS ARE
NEARLY BEATEN TO DEATH AND
JOHNSON SUMMONS GEORGE WALLACE
TO THE OVAL OFFICE.
WALLACE IS A LITTLE GUY ANYWAY
AND PUTS HIM ON A DEEP CUSHION
COUCH AND JOHNSON SAYS, WHEN
YOU'RE GONE, DO YOU WANT YOUR
TOMBSTONE TO SAY, GEORGE
WALLACE, HE HATED, OR GEORGE
WALLACE, HE BUILT?
AND PART OF MY MESSAGE HERE IS
THINK ABOUT, IF YOU'RE IN PUBLIC
LIFE AS AN OFFICE HOLDER, THINK
ABOUT WHAT WE WILL THINK ABOUT
YOU WHEN WE LOOK AT YOUR OIL
PORTRAIT.
THAT'S ULTIMATELY GOING TO LAST
A LOT LONGER THAN ANY GIVEN
CYCLE OR ANY OTHER TWEET STORM.
>> TALK ABOUT FRANKLIN
ROOSEVELT.
HE HAS A PARTICULAR ROLE IN THE
BOOK.
>> HE DOES.
LIFE OF THE COUNTRY OBVIOUSLY.
THE IDEA ROOSEVELT WITHOUT HAVE
DISMISSED HIM IS IMPROBABLE,
WITH NO PARTICULAR SKILL WOULD
LIKE TO BECOME PRESIDENT IN THE
ANNALS OF COLLEGE PREDICTION IS
PRETTY HIGH.
HE COULD HAVE, BECAUSE OF THE
CRISIS OF 1933, AMERICANS OUT OF
WORK, DEEP CRISIS OF
INSTITUTIONS, GLOBAL ANXIETY AND
UNEASE.
ANY OF THIS SOUND FAMILIAR, HE
COULD HAVE ASSUMED MORE
DICTATORIAL POWERS.
THE LINE IN HIS INAUGURAL
ADDRESS THAT GOT MORE REACTION
THAN THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO
FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF, THE PRESENT
CRISIS MAY REQUIRE ME TO TAKE ON
WAR-TIME POWERS, AND THE CROWD
ROARED AND ELEANOR ROOSEVELT
SAID IT CHILLED ME BECAUSE THEY
WANTED A DICTATOR.
THAT NIGHT, MARCH 4th, 1933,
ROOSEVELT SITTING IN THE WHITE
HOUSE THE FIRST NIGHT IN 12
YEARS AND A BRAIN TRUSTER COMES
TO HIM, ADVISOR, RATHER
PRETENTIOUSLY, MR. PRESIDENT, IF
YOU SUCCEED, YOU WILL GO DOWN AS
ONE OF OUR GREATEST PRESIDENTS,
IF YOU FAIL YOU WILL GO DOWN AS
THE WORST.
HE LOOKS AT HIM AND SAYS, IF I
FAIL I MAY GO DOWN AS THE LAST.
MY VIEW, I BELIEVE THE CHARACTER
IS DESTINY, AS THE GREEKS TAUGHT
US, ROOSEVELT WAS ABLE TO LIFT
US UP BECAUSE HE LIFTED HIMSELF
UP.
39 YEARS OLD, ONE OF THE MOST
POPULAR POLITICIAN IS IN THE
DEMOCRATIC PARTY.
1941, THE YEAR BEFORE NOMINATED
FOR VICE PRESIDENT THE AGE OF
38.
HAD EVERYTHING GOING FOR HIM AND
WAKES UP WITH INFANTILE
PARALYSIS AND WILLS HIMSELF BACK
INTO THE POLITICAL ARENA.
>> THESE PRESIDENTS WERE HIGHLY
FLAWED MEN.
>> YES.
>> HAD SUBSTANCE OF CHARACTER
THAT ALLOWED THEM TO TRANSFORM
THEMSELVES, YOU TALKED ABOUT
LYNDON JOHNSON.
YOU DON'T HAVE THAT HOPE OR DO
YOU HAVE THAT HOPE STILL OF THE
CURRENT PRESIDENT?
>> I LIVE IN HOPE.
WHAT I WOULD LIKE, DO YOU WANT
US, WHEN WE LOOK AT YOUR
PORTRAIT, ON THE STATE FLOOR, DO
YOU WANT PEOPLE TO SAY, OH,
THAT'S THE GUY THAT SCREWED
EVERYTHING UP.
OR YOU KNOW WHAT, HE HAS
UNCONVENTIONAL AND HAD HIS
MOMENTS, DAMMIT, HE DID THIS ON
GUNS AND JOBS.
THAT, TO MY MIND, MIGHT APPEAL
TO TRUMP, BECAUSE IT IS ABOUT
HIM.
>> JOHN, THE BOOK IS "THE SOUL
OF AMERICA, THE BATTLE FOR OUR
BETTER ANGELS," YOU READ IT AND
YOU WILL HAVE HOPE.


URL: https://www.thirteen.org/metrofocus/2019/12/historian-jon-meacham/