For those who are worried that we have entered dark days as country and are uncertain what the future might hold, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and presidential historian Jon Meacham explores other eras in America’s history, pointing out that in the end, by following “our better angels” we became a stronger and better America.
“Lincoln got it wrong before he got it right,” says Meacham whose most recent book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels (Random House 2018; $30). “Woodrow Wilson supported women’s suffrage but got a lot of other things wrong.”
Meacham points out that Lyndon Johnson had a very mixed record but when it came to Civil Rights he was the one who convinced Governor George Wallace, a virulent segregationist, to ask federal troops to come in to integrate the public schools by playing on how he wanted to be remembered. To do so, Johnson asked him, “George, when you’re gone, do you want there to be a scrawny pine saying ‘George, what do you want left behind? Do you want a great big marble monument that says ‘George Wallace: He Built’? Or do you want a little piece of scrawny pine lying there along that hot caliche soil that says ‘George Wallace: He Hated’?”
“Johnson understood something that I hope our incumbent president comes to realize,” says Meacham, whose previous books include biographies of George H.W. Bush, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. “What will people say when they look at my portrait?”
Meacham’s hope is we tweet “hate” less and “like” more.
Using history as a guide, Meacham is hopeful.
“There are forces in our country like the press, the courts, the rule of law, Congress, the president and the people that control the outcome and if we can get three or so of the forces to come together, we’ll be okay,” he says. “Right now the press is doing a great job, I think we can take the presidency off the table and Congress is falling off the edge but the courts are doing a good job, the rule of law is holding and we need people to come together. We have to listen to the people we don’t agree with on the chance they might be 1% right about something that we can work on together. We have to resist tribalism. There’s room in the American soul for Martin Luther King and the KKK but the question is which one do we celebrate.”
What: Jon Meacham talk and book signing with former Assistant US Attorney Dan Purdom moderating.
When: Sunday, May 27 at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Ratio Hall (Wentz Science Center), 131 S. Loomis St. on the campus of North Central College, Naperville IL
FYI: Event tickets are available at www.andersonsbookshop.com, at the store or by (630) 355-2665.