tv Character the Presidency CSPAN November 23, 2017 3:05pm-4:21pm EST
family. the family's love you and they miss you. allowain, i'm going to reporters and press -- i will ask them to leave, and we will confidential, personal conversations. we are set up for that. really wonderful what technology can do. fired., you're and have a happy thanksgiving, i must say. have a good thanksgiving -- >> c-span come here from "new york times" columnist david brooks and historian ronald white discuss the presidency, comparing past administrations to the trump administration. [applause] >> so character and the presidency is quite a subject, isn't it? here in grand rapids, we are lucky to enjoyed a fine example
of moral courage in the presidency of gerald ford. we thought we would open tonight's program with a brief clip of "gerald r ford: a test of character," a documentary that aired on national geographic last year. after that the investor will come up and differ much about why he felt the need to initiate this series. [applause] wasven as president ford growing in assurance in popularity, he knew he could not truly heal the country until the situation with richard nixon was resolved. the former president had resigned, but would he be prosecuted for his actions ? at ford's first major press conference a month into his presidency, journals asked him if he would use his power
power to pardon nixon. >> are you saying that it is an option you will still consider? >> every day was a different issue. it was serious times. he needed to and wanted to attack those problems, but you can't attack those problems when you have a press conference and 90% of the questions are asked about watergate. president ford: i am not ruling it out. it is an option, and a proper option for any president. >> over the labor day weekend, ford gathered his closest legal advisors and consider the options before him. he knew that if nixon did face trial, the country would be mired in watergate for years to come. but if he steered america clear of that fate by pardoning nixon before a trial, public anger would most likely cost him election to his own term of office in 1976. wentollowing sunday, ford
to the oval office to deliver a special announcement to the nation. president ford: i have learned already in this office will be difficult decisions -- that the difficult decisions always come to this desk. i must admit that many of them do not look at all the same as the hypothetical questions that i have answered freely, and perhaps too fast on previous occasions. i, gerald r ford,k o grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto richard nixon for all offenses against the united states from july 20, 9, 1974.ough august >> he ended his remarks and humidity signed the pardon document right then and there.
eye ofber catching the navalresident ford's aide, wonderful guy who was positioned somewhere between the briefing room and the cabinet room, and he caught my eye, and i caught his eye, and i just shook my head. and he said, "why are you shaking your head?" he just cost himself in 1976 election. ford's chiefident of staff, said "no, you are wrong. he just made his first presidential decision." we were both right. >> phone calls are heavy now, running about 50-50. but telegrams are 6-1 against the president's decision, 600 to 700 telegrams an hour. >> people were stunned and there was official role reaction to what had happened.
>> "brace yourself for the liberals in the media." from new mexico, another telegram said, "roosevelt had his new deal, now ford has his crooked deal." >> people on the left in the democratic party said kennedy and others were hearing screams from constituents and allies. .o.b.cannot let this s get off. he has been hustled by al haig and others, and we have got to strike back. ." >> almost losing his footing at one point. the crowd outside grew to about 600 people, and gerald ford hurt himself booed for the first time during his presidency. >> it was such a surprise to he dropped 20,
30 points in the polls overnight. >> i felt very good about the future of the country and all of a sudden in one fell swoop that is gone. >> with the 1976 presidential elections looming, democrats sensed an opportunity to weaken ford. >> the president has resigned. he was not tried for the impeachment process, now is being pardoned by the man the appointed to the office of the presidency. i think it is a disturbing ent for the- preced country. >> on october 17, ford volunteered to testify before congress, the first president ever to do so. >> suspicions created by the circumstances of the pardon which you issued, the speed with which it was issued, and the reasons for which it was issued, make people question whether or not in fact it was a deal. president ford: i want to assure
of thembers subcommittee, members of the congress, and the american people, there was no deal, period. under no circumstances. >> ford said, look, the pardon was in for nixon, it wasn't for me. it was for what he called the national interest. president ford: i was absolutely convinced and then, that if we , and indictment, trial, conviction, anything else that transpired after that, that the attention of the congress of american people would be diverted from the problems we have to solve. >> it showed his moral courage. it showed he was going to do something that he knew was going to cost him. you don't often see a lot of moral courage in washington, but that was a clear moment.
[applause] >> this afternoon, we had the opportunity to have some short conversations with our 2 guests, and they referred to this character and presidency and ethics of the man many of you knew and many of us shared private moments with. and it was that that motivated me to produce this film, after watching on public television a short synopsis of the presidents of the last two decades, we came to a point where they talked about nixon and jumped right to jimmy carter. i jumped up and threw something at the television set and said, "damn it, we've got to find a way." foundation, hank and i have been cochairing a legacy
committee for a couple of years, but i started this film three or four years ago, and when i got into it with producers from new york and interviewing people who do documentaries in california, they weren't interested in doing a film on character and ethics in presidents. that i watched the debates of , and i-- 2060 election watched 17 republicans calling each other names and i watched democrats not knowing what to call each other. there was just no principle involved on any side of it. nobody like jerry ford, and the quality that we knew he had, as oprah winfrey called last week, his west michigan nice, was built into jerry ford. it was in the water he drank, it wasn't the religion he had committed wasn't just his wonderful parents. it was the fact that he grew up , andcommunity that cares judging by the numbers here,
people still care in our generation. we have to look at it generations that are still out there. i watched elizabeth holtzman. some things never change. makes you want to drain the swamp even more, you think back on those days. a man whoave here is meant something to all of us, and the principles, and it might have cost him the 1976 election. i was asked by ron wyden to tell you this quick story of one ford was in pittsburgh. the rights were beginning. demonstrations at the white house. that he was home alone. he was in pittsburgh on a monday. i got a phone call from the white house doctor, who said, "can i talk to you?" "yes, sir." "the president wants you to do him a favor. i want you to fly to washington and spend the evening with mrs. ford.
she is alone at the white house. on, she's lot going not feeling well, and you remember those days. you had to change plans to pittsburgh to get a flight to d.c. twice a day. i spent the evening talking to her. the chants outside, the beeping of horns, the boo ing, all the tension was built. when he came home, he went upstairs pretty late, and she decided not to have dinner. just the two of us. he sat down. i don't want to break your image of jerry ford, put in his early years he drank martinis. [laughter] depressed a little -- he pressed a little button on his chair and intend this little stuart, filipino. "i will have one." what are you going to do, turn down the president? [laughter]
we have that one martini, and he nixono me, "peter , blanked up. i had to do it, and it will probably cost me the 1976 election." he knew it that night. i was in deep trepidation that somebody might have been listening. "don't tell anyone, don't tell anyone," only because i was over my head. a 34-year-old lumber salesman who came out and did things for him when he needed me to do them. but i knew it was a man of strong ethical character. i had to do the film. i hope you will support what we are doing at the ford foundation, because his legacy is very important to hank and i. we created this program. i want it to go on and i wanted to begin regularly and i want you to enjoy tonight speakers, because they are dynamite. so thank you all. [applause]
>> thank you, ambassador. now it is my pleasure to invite our three guests to the stage. first up is dr. ronald c. white. princeton,of ucla in dr. white is a leading historian of the 19th-century united states he is a fellow at the huntington library in california and is the author of numerous award-winning biographies of presidents abraham lincoln and ulysses s. grant. please help me welcome dr. white to the stage. [applause] he is drunk this evening by david brooks, columnist at the new york times and frequent contribute -- he is joined to this evening by david brooks, columnist at "the new york times" and frequent contributor to pbs. he is the author of "bobos in paradise" and "the road to
character." please welcome david brooks. [applause] and of course, tonight's conversation will be moderated by our very own director of the bronstein center since 2003. since the third edition of his book "religion and the american presidency" was released today, perfect timing. let's turn it over. [applause] >> thank you very much, scott, for that great introduction. i am so pleased that we brought this conversation together. we have been talking about this for a year, and it is a topic we had no idea at this time last year that had become really appurtenant topic for virtually pertinent topic for every part of our public discourse. let's jump right in. all,ld like to ask you when his character and where does it come from? david: i wrote a book called
"the road to character," and writing a book on character i learned that writing a book on character does not give you character. [laughter] david: even reading a book on character does not give you good character. but buying a book on character does. [laughter] david: i would recommend that. i get the big print edition here. print is in ohio state. [laughter] david: the basic theory of the book is that the way you build character is to identify your core sin and you fight it. , and forve weakness one of my characters, dwight eisenhower, it was his temper. -- ofory i told was ofi
ike as a little boy, age eight or nine, and he wanted to go trick-or-treating, and they wouldn't let him. he punched of the tree and rubbed the skin off of his fingers. his mom sent in to his room and let him cry for an hour and then came to his room and recited a verse from proverbs, "he who conquered his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city." a top him that he had a problem, which was his temper, and if you want to be a leader of any kind, you have to conquer it. he spent the next 60 years working on his own weakness. for me, the key to character, the way i wrote it to the books committees that she is humility, and it is not thinking lowly of yourself. it is radical self-awareness from a position of centeredness, and to views honestly and work on yourself. onee the book came out, the thing from the team that should have occurred to me is his mom.
all the characters in my book had amazing moms. and i thought eisenhower was an amazing, amazing woman. , but theirwere eh moms were amazing. [laughter] david: i came across a study where these guys were drafted into world war ii and some rose to colonels and majors and some state private. was the iq? relation. was it physical bravery? no correlation. the number one correlation was relationship with their mother. those who have received a flood of love from their mom gave it to their men. they had amazing moms who poured love into them. i have come to think of this idea of characters built by fighting against yourself, this hydraulic notion -- all these temptations, you have got to beat it.
that is part of character, but the most important part -- this is saint augustine speaking -- knowing the right thing and knowing how to love really well. we love, lot of things and some are low, like loving money, and some are high, like loving truth. putting your higher-level above your lower left. i think character building is a lot more fun than i used to. on?r ronald: i have had the privilege of speaking here in the past on my biography of lincoln and grants, and i spoke from the inside out. did, the what lincoln emancipation preparation, and what granted, leading the union army. it is who they were. the same kinds of qualities -- it is interesting how the commentator uses the term "moral courage." that is grant's term.
echoing what david said, not only would it be mothers, it would be wise. julia, this remarkable person -- they had this incredible marriage also people would come upon them in the white house years, years, years after their marriage, holding hands like bashful lovers. at the base of character is the question of who is the mentor. i'm impressed with the program h the howland steen center -- auenstein center, the people who are mentors, not since the academics, but people within the community. i wanted to find out who are the mentors of lincoln and grant theyimes biographies -- are popular in bookstores, but they skip over the formative periods of life. "i do notelf said read biographies because they don't tell enough about the formative period of life."
what a boy did as a man, what a woman did as a girl. each one of these figures seems to have a conflicted relationship with father. 'su may remember thatl lincoln stepmother came into his life and davis love and your turf. grant's mother was a quiet person. his father was outspoken full to she was the one who shaped him. the formative influences from influences in our lives -- certainly our spouses, our mentors. who are these people? if you look back at 18, 24 years of age were there not people who mentor to you? david: i read a study of so many great men and women had their dads die when they were 12. my kids are over 12 and i told them, "i failed you, i'm sorr y."
[laughter] david: one of the guys i've been reading about recently is a great scientist named e.o. wilson. when he was seven, his folks split up and they sent him to the speech, paradise, florida. he saw a jellyfish -- she had never seen it before. he was stunned. danglingad his feet over top and he saw stingray kobane. at that point and naturalist was born. he was seized by the beauty of nature. i collect the enunciation moment -- i call it the enunciation moment when we find what we will often veryir lives, young. he had the will to other things happen to him. he was in rapture by the ocean all of a sudden. fishing for a pinfish and he took it off the hook and flipped it into his face and the dorsal fin pierced his people, and it ended up
landing him in that eye. he was a naturalist and he couldn't look at birds -- but he spent 80 years studying ants. he had a very good professor in mississippi, but then he went to harvard, and there was a professor their name to sell a story, who told him, "you collect your samples. don't collect on the path. that is too easy. collect across the jungle." one day he was in a pond in the amazon and a crocodile grabbed the guy and pulled him down and he escaped. he is leading, his whole body is crushed. he drags himself away, dragged himself to the hospital, gets a cast. wilson says, "that is no proof of character getting away from a crocodile." what happened next was she is stuck in this cast in the amazon and he spends months dragging
himself through the jungle learning to collect with his left hand. i think that is what we want from mentors. first, support, but we want to be told it is hard and it is worthy of being hard, and that sense of importance, the toughness -- thi remember my teachers and the ones i don't like are the ones who like me. we want that hardness in a mentor. gleaves: you are both getting at the idea of character and leadership now. that is where i want to go next. when i had the privilege of interviewing president ford in a 2005, there came a point in our conversation when i said, "mr. president, what is it boiled down to for you? what is the character trait that is the essence of leadership? without hesitation, he looked at me and said, "trust. people have to know that you will do what you say you are going to do, and if you say something to hisomebody in a private meeting, you will not go
out into public and say something different that contradicts what you said." i want you to address this idea of character and leadership. ron, do you want to start? ronald: david reminded us in his wonderful book " the road to character" of this big personality in politics, entertainment, whatever it is, and i'm struck by this 19th-century term of the self effacement of these figures. ulysses s. grant elected president and rights to his best friend, william tecumseh sherman, a person so opposite in personality, "i was forced into it in spite of myself. i cannot give up the task, and that i would read it -- leave it to the trading politicians. i wanted this office not for myself, but so that we could preserve the great victories of this war. " one of the traits is putting
beyond yourself. certainly there is ambition in any leader, but when i saw that movie, i saw him appointing beyond himself. the enemies refugees -- again and again pointing beyond himself to goals that were important for the whole nation, not just his own self-aggrandizement. david: when i watched the movie, i was struck by being here. in ford's case, there was not only his family, although that was in for them, but the culture of this area and the culture of the midwest. i am a new yorker, so i am a snob. [laughter] david: very deficient character. midwestmember coming to , i went to school in chicago. i was once at a conference in the 1980's about how to retain talent in a company company said that what you have to do is to pay your stars much more than everyone else and treat your stars a lot better, and then he
said, "we are having trouble getting this message across to companies in the midwest. there is a sense of time no better than anybody else but nobody is better than me. basic equality. i was reminded of george h.w. bush, who i talk about in the book, who grew up in that same generation, and when he was running for president the second his staff would say come "you are running for president, you have to talk about how great you are." they would write these paragraphs -- i'm george bush, the greatest thing since sliced bread, i should be a president -- and he would always x them out. finally they beat up on him, mr. bush, you have got a talk about yourself, you are running for president. one time he would come and his mom was still alive, and his mom called and said, "george, you are talking about yourself." [laughter] david: that is a bit of the self-effacing.
that is not what i see in presidents -- i've interviewed every president since reagan, except this one. [laughter] david: i was close to several, and they had many good traits, all of them. but humility was not necessarily one of them. theuld say barack obama was most self-confident human being i've ever met in my life. , once he got an idea, he really loved it. one story about w that comes up -- a sign of futility but a bit of the sign of the character of a modern president. it was 2006, and a columnist and i were in the oval office with george w, and we were arguing about the iraq war, and we were saying, "you don't have enough troops in iraq," which was a common thing to say. he was fighting back. george bush in private -- i
often tell my democratic friends from he is 60 iq points smarter in private than in public. [laughter] david: they often think that brings him up to 80. which is not fair. he read 115 books a year as president, a lot of books for everybody, let alone a president. he got beat red, screaming, said, "lyndon johnson set in the oval office with his generals," and we were pushing back, and it was intimidating because he is a big guy, but he kept saying, " i'm enjoying this, i'm enjoying this." have an had a chance to argument, because when you are president, your staff does not want to give you a bad meeting. one of the challenges of being president is getting information, but the second is d everyu are love-bombe day by everybody, and that is one of the challenges of being a leader, had you deal with that love bomb? i've never seen anybody in him
from it. gleaves: that gets to the question of how did grant and lincoln -- you have written biographies on both. how did they handle adoration? ronald: both of them were very good at letting people around them know, i want to hear your real opinion, your honest opinion, and to be eight this and are, therefore. convening a meeting of his military staff or cabinet, and he would wait until the last person spoke and they would know that their opinion was respected. the same with lincoln, he respected opinions -- we know of rivals,"team putting people in his cabinet of a different persuasion than himself. being a leader is say i don't know as much as you do and i'm appointing people smarter than i am. that is a huge quality that defines both of them and made them successful as leaders. i have talked about this story before come one of my favorite lincoln stories,
and you as the historian correct me if i get it wrong, but lincoln wanted generals who would fight him and he had this general, general mcclellan, who was his general, and he went to mcclellan's house, which is unusual -- incomprehensible that today's president would go to somebody else's house. she went -- he went to his house to encourage him to fight more aggressively. mcclellan wasn't home. they waited. mcclellan arrived through the backdoor backstairs, and the servant says come "mcclellan is resting but he will come down later to see you." [laughter] david: a general making a president weight. they weight around, i don't know how long, and then the servant comes down and says, "general mcclellan has retired for the night, he is too tired.:." hay said, this is such an insult. you can quote the exact line
them up but lincoln said, "i will wait for anybody who will fight." ronald: i will wait for general mcclellan's horse if she needs us to victory. you have got to stand off for an assert your rights, but that any second inaugural -- i y, as i amtheor want to do, that we have 2 mountains in our lives, and when we are young we think it is building a career, building a family, our identity. and then you achieve all your goals or if you have a failure happens in your life, the death of a child or something, but you get knocked off the mountain. and then you realize, oh actually, that wasn't my mountain. some larger cause is actually my mountain. the first tends to be external, the second is internal. the first is about building the ego, the second is about surrendering the ego.
some people stay in place, but they behave differently. was a very ambitious man, but when the war came and he had that episode at the second inaugural, it was not about the ego anymore. it had been surrendered into something much larger. he to me is an example of somebody whose spiritual growth was unimaginable. ronald: if i may, this touches on another aspect of leadership, and that is the willingness to admit one's mistakes. grant has throat cancer, he knows he is dying, it is a terminal disease. there is no presidential pension until harry truman. he is writing the memoirs to provide for julia. he finishes them three days before he dies. the doctor said he only stayed alike to finish the memoirs. it even in the last pages he is going to admit his mistakes,
willing to admit what he did wrong. this is just remarkable. lincoln is the same. as a young man, lincoln's humor could hurt, his satire could bite. when daisy heard a man was theting the predecessor of republican party convert critical, and he rushes over from his law office in springfield and he sees this man speaking and he has what we might call a physical disability. lincoln gets up there and not tes the man rhetorically but me makes the man physical disability. the man breaks into tears, he is humiliated, and he rushes out of the room. this is the young lincoln. he learned from this. he saw the man out and offered his apology. i think the marks of leadership is can a person admit their own mistakes, can they learn from those mistakes and go forward? order,ad this incredible
number 11, where he expelled the jews in december 1862. julia called it "that awful order." our leading american jewish historian talks about how in grant's 2 terms as president, he appointed for more jews than anyone up to that time, she became a great friend to the jewish community. can you lend from your mistakes? i think that is a quality of leadership. gleaves: times have changed so much, though. as i listen to these stores and the integrity of lincoln -- we talked about eisenhower -- could gerald ford be elected today, washington, lincoln? as we were looking at the candidates the last cycle, where are the really right candidates with a lot of integrity? could they be elected, or are they too over handled and coached by media consultants?
[laughter] david: i somehow feel they could not get elected. tall, so that is good. [laughter] david: how many times in the last 100 years has the shorter candidate won? jimmy carter beating ford, maybe. minas watches nominate -- might as well just nominate lebron james. [laughter] david: i think there are certain qualities of self-assessment -- self a face meant -- when i think of the current batch of presidents, they were very assertive, and that is not because they are any worse, but the culture has just shifted. if you look at the use of the first person pronoun, and this thing called google where you can track the usage of words, " we" is down, "i" is up. there is this thing called the narcissism test. i will read a bunch of statements and it does it apply to you.
i find it easy to manipulate people because i'm so remarkable. [laughter] should write a book about me. i love to look at my body. the median narcissism score has gone up 30% in the last 20 years, and we are number one in the world in narcissism. we are number 21 in the world in math performance. around thepeople world if you are good at math, we are number one in the world in thinking we are good at math. [laughter] david: that culture has shifted. i would say -- i will speak generally about the politicians in congress -- until about five years ago, the quality of -- the individual quality of the people was as good as any time i have covered. i think the last five years, the average iq has gone down about 10 or 20%. a lot of people are leaving. it is so unpleasant. but they generally went for the right reasons, because it is not a glamorous life. it is a hard life. they are very unhappy with the
system. my general take is, by and large, they are good people stuck in a run system that they hate and they don't know how to get out of. i think in general we elect people with pretty good character, but then we send them into just this nightmare. one reason i write biographies is that i hope and trust that i holding up people of the past, we may see a vision or a model. for thisation evening, i was rereading given mccullough's wonderful biography of harry truman, who in some ways reminds me of gerald ford. he is a prominent person and lives by a accretive treat others well, respect your neighbor, believe in god, work hard. at the end of that long and hundred 92-page biography, david reid,lough quotes eric seva the wonderful cbs commentator, and he says, "i might have
disagreed with president truman on the atomic bomb, or in terms of korea. i might have disagreed with him harry truman was character, character." thatght want to be at place where we disagree with someone's particular policies or decisions or opinions, but if we can see them and value their character, that is what it is all about. i think you win the right to be heard -- it is not that you have you win, ceo, pastor -- the right to be heard by a character. david: i'm reminded of another story. i was stirred for -- i was covering a moderate republican woman from columbus, ohio. i was interviewing her in her office, i think, and she held up this pamphlet, and it was a flyer she had sent up against her opponent, and it was a diaper, and she said, "this is what i sent out." she was not upset by the stock
hit at her. when you are in a close race, you lose control of your campaign and the national parties come in and take over your campaign. she was not upset by the stop getting her, which was super hard. she was upset with what was going on with her opponent, and her mom was 93 and called her up and said, "i'm ashamed of the things you are running against your opponent." she was in a tough place because of this. she said, "you don't win, you don't serve." they are in an era where to win, they think, or maybe they really do have to run these kinds of campaigns. it is not easy to know how to run a campaign because you think if i don't do this, the other person will get to serve, and i won't serve, and i want to serve. this is the model compromise you have to make in modern politics. and the surrounding culture has become so coarsened. we have seen a questioning of
inguage and popular culture, think. it is not necessarily that our campaigns are more vicious than the past. you asked historians and researchers know that we have had terribly vicious campaigns in the nt 20's, and after the founding of the republic, the founding fathers could be the most vicious of all. but there was a perception that our culture has gotten so much worse, and it leads to the question, is it possible that a andident can get the power maintain the power just on the measure of effectiveness to get things done, and not at all be point we to a where the national conversation has shifted so much and is not driven by ethics, but hey, he got something done? david: let me say a few things on the culture. gottenit has noticeably more corrosive, but i
think it is a mistake to think that we are slouching towards gomorrah. if you look at the social indicators since the 1960's, they have stated bad for a long time, but now they are much better. crime is down 70%, domestic violence down 50%, teenage pregnancy is down. indicator after indicator, a period of social repair. i am in the media, but don't think we have that much power. a lot of kids are growing up today playing horribly violent video games, pornography everywhere, and yet there own lines are pretty wholesome -- their own lives are pretty wholesome. if you want to feel good about the country, hang around campus, and anybody around this cap is can tell you that. there is corrosive and then there is not corrosive. as for the politics, it seems to me what is lost is trust. first of all come we don't trust each other as a society. it used to be that if you asked americans, do you trust me to do the right thing most of the
time, 78% said yes. now 19 or 20% say yes. if you ask people, do you trust her neighbor, he used to be 60%. now 19% of millennials. there has been this class in social trust. hill, if youapitol are gerald ford or lyndon johnson for all of his flaws, you were in the business of crafting complicated legislation, and you knew how to do it. i was just telling the story, there is a skill to it. some of it is just being trustworthy, so you can gather a team. some of it is just knowing the tricks. i was talking recently about a guy who was the first president bush's budget director. he was telling me about a guy nixon'sl laird, secretary of defense to my thing. the story he told is that laird
apparently had no hair come he was bald, but there was a barber in the white house, and every wednesday he would schedule an appointment with the white house barber. why did he do this? it is because in the pentagon, the secretary's schedule is published, and he wanted everybody in the white house to house.rd to white [laughter] "oh,: people would say, mel is in the white house again," and that would give him power, but he was just at the barber. passing this bipartisan sophisticated piece of legislation may be in 20 years raw skill setthe is in decline. ronald: i think one of the big ships is in the attitude towards government. one was a candidate with no experience.
was a person with experience. i think our best persons are politicians with expense. lawyers have expense, doctors have experience. we have been struggling with the infrastructure bill., i heard there is five countries who lead the world in infrastructure -- they are denmark, sweden, norway, switzerland, and great britain. the question was asked from what was the difference in those five countries? they each trust their government. they believe that government is good, and they would rather trust government than the private industry, and that is how the infrastructure gets going. but we have gotten into such a place of distrusting government. a couple years ago i did a teacher's event in kentucky. visiting henry clay's home outside of lexington. when i got there, the big sign about henry clay was that his great nickname was the great compromise her. the great compromiser.
it was a positive term. one of the best people ever not elected president -- he ran three times. our distrust of government is affecting us all across the board, whether it be republican or democratic. very interesting. i want to post one more question for you all before we open it up to questions from the audience and our audience in ann arbor. what i would like to ask, we are on a campus, college campus. at the hauenstein center, we do take a character seriously. we are about ethical and effective leadership, but ethical is put in the first place for a reason. what should colleges be doing at this point to rebuild the culture of character? what books should professors assign, what community reading projects should be undertaken? what kinds of things would you suggest? ronald: well, i think
universities have become so specialized, and we have lost the local -- we have locked away from the whole idea of character formation. let's assign david's book. this is the best you can get. to read biographies that you watch the shaping of character, the formation of character. that is different from doing a survey class in european history or american history. we need to watch for the formation of character in individuals and lift that up as models for young men and women. david: and that book was based the distinction between the resume virtues and eulogy virtues. me virtues are for your job and eulogy virtues is what they say about you after you are dead. universities are great at teaching resume virtues, but don't know what to say about eulogy virtues. students are hungry for it, but
they don't have the moral all caps larry. there are certain was that are not part of your vocabulary -- grace, mercy, charity. without those words, it is hard to understand spiritual development. and so i would give talks about this to the students, and it was like a sprinkler system in the desert. any talk of character, they want -- they are like all of us. we have a moral yearning to lead a good life. nobody was applying that. i would go especially to secular universities, and the hunger was so palpable, because the professors are specialized. they didn't think it was their business to do it. and theyalvin or hope, are like, yeah, we do this all the time. [laughter] david: but then -- so what they do is they get out of college, and a lot of them don't know their purpose in life. that's fine, they are 22. and they are in flux. they are without moral authority, they are without moral language, and they don't
know how to find meaning and purpose in their life. what do we as an adult culture tell them? well, first we say it is ok to fail. that is what every commencement speaker says. from that you learned that if you are denzel washington or j.k. rowling, failing looks good. the second we tell them is be free, explore your freedom. they say, no, i've got my freedom. i need authority, structure, i want some knowledge. and then we say, well, look inside yourself. you do you. yeah, i'm looking inside myself, there's nothing here. [laughter] david: and they say, your future is limitless. and so basically, we give them a series of empty boxes. partly because we have grown up in a culture, stretching back for hundreds of years from where the emphasis is about liberation and emancipation. break free, break free. and that is like getting out of egypt if you are moses, but
there was a second chapter, a second piece of that book, was taking the law at sinai and rebinding. we are good at the emancipation park, but not good at the rebinding part. people get lost in their freedom, and they don't know how to define it. i think that is just a national failure, not just a university failure. from, but weom have not transitioned into freedom for, and there's a huge dissension between the two. gleaves: very good. any questions? while we are waiting for questions to come forward, let me comment, i think some of the attractive figures in history like socrates are very compelling to students, because socrates teaches you the long, arduous road to self mastery. there is some thing he wrote about that. eroic about that. students find it puts the romance in philosophy, for one thing. there is a reason to struggle. david: i teach a seminar, and in
the last assignment, we read 14 books in the seminar, and the last assignment is pick any book and use it to describe a personal problem you are going through. i assign 14 books, 19 of my students chose one book, and it was a book called "the long loneliness," by dorothy day. she was a very remarkable woman who was a mess as a young woman, as so many people are. she gave birth, and if i can remember this correctly, she wrote an essay about the act of giving birth, and it ended with this little paragraph, "if i created the greatest sculpture, written the greatest symphony, compose the greatest novel, i could not feel more resulted than when they place the child in my arms." and she needed somebody to banks, and she decided god was
the person to thank. she became a catholic, and she spent the next 60 years of her life not only serving the poor, living within the poor, erasing a life of poverty as a catholic social worker. she transfix us us because she is so emotional, but then she is so dedicated and so committed. i will take that to my will take one of those. gleaves: very good. here is a question from this audience. in this disruptive lyrical moment, how should citizens killed the resilience it takes to remain engaged and in -- and build to the resilience it takes to remain i engaged and informed even amidst the toxic changes that happen so regularly in the new cycle and public life? ronald: i think resilience is the key word. having spent a lot of my time working with young people as a college chaplain, as a professor, there's a tremendous idealism, it is so attractive in young adults, but the question is, what will happen when you meet the obstacle?
do you have the resilience? that causes us to go much more deep within ourselves. what are the ideas that are really motivating you? this is a difficult time in which we live, but i worry that many of my generation art withdrawing. this is a frightening time and we need resilience to continue the task of building a more just society. david: the first thing i would say is keep having faith in politics. a lot of people want to zone out. the ability to not care about politics is a luxury you have if you live in a healthy society. if you live in a sick society where you could be shot, you do not have the luxury of not caring about politics. second, if you don't care about politics, politics will care about you. eventually your life will be in hinged by it. the second i would say is that a lot of what is going wrong
with our politics is the failure of intellectual character. we think of character is fortitude, like soldiers or nurses. but character is also a mental thing with the ability to hold opinions firmly, but a little flexibly -- you don't want to be a total pushover, but you don't want to be rigid. you want to be courageous and take risks in conclusions, but you don't want to be reckless. you want to be able to see opposing sides. that is a super hard thing to do. we were talking about a book i'm reading by a neuroscientist where they give people evidence -- say it is on global warming -- they give people evidence, essays contradicting their opinion. what this evidence does, he does not sway them towards where the sways themads, it further away because it forces them to make up new arguments for why they were always right. the more intelligent you are, the better you are at getting more arguments, so the more you are likely to be polarized against actual data. and it is a fact of politics
that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be extreme. because college educated people are much more polarized, much more likely to vote straight party line, then high school-educated people. david, you are making the common ground initiative. [laughter] gleaves: he is not the poster child. david: all of this is to say that if anybody goes to church, synagogue, or mosque, there is something: original sin. we are kind of screwed up in how we are built, and you have to work hard to overcome that. and use your own initiative. go, retakinge you common ground. we will keep trying. he was a question from the ford school in ann arbor. what are the consequences of electing a president with such a controversial character? that is not a controversial question. [laughter]
>> a lot of competitions are a competition between virtues. the president.of we could take him out of it. one of the things that is indisputably happening is every wound in the body politic is being ripped further apart than it was a year ago. it will take a long time and a lo9t of work to rebuild the social fabric. to find one thing why trump was elected, what people were upset about and the master thing driving this is a crisis of social solidarity. loneliness,ise of
itemization,, distrust. that world war ii generation had this concept because of the depression and the war, we're in this together. yearsns of the last 40 are in a phrase that might well be, i'm free to be myself. there is some virtue to that. we are more creative. the. food in the 1950's was boring. we have taken that a little bit far. the connection between people is in steep decline. there are many people opposed to george w. bush and barack obama, but if there is a positive side, there is an engagement of people within the political process because of the difficulty. people who were content to coast along. i don't like him, but it's ok because another involved. people are stepping forward. young people are stepping
forward and becoming more involved. questions that have not been asked in a long time. they are difficult questions, but people are asking them. there is a level of engagement that is increasing. difficult tos trust the media nowadays. how would you change the character of the media? david: i would fire the colonists -- columists. [laughter] i will say couple of things about the media, of which i am a lifelong member. think -- i will say of my colleagues, not only at "the times" but elsewhere. i am a conservative columnist for the times. i joke that being the conservative columnist at the times is like being the chief
rabbi at mecca. [laughter] i will say of my colleagues, they believe in the craft of journalism. they practice that. they may come from the coasts, they may be more socially liberal than the average american, but they believe in the craft. if you think the hillary clinton campaign loved us, i guarantee that is not the case. i happen to think in the trump trump white house leaks like no other white house ever. there have been a lot of scoops and stories, most of which have been accurately checked out. i have to think that the post, the new york times, a bunch of the papers have had a good moment. whether i would always believe in "info wars" or alex jones, then no, i have a different
opinion, but i think the media has a reasonably job over the last year, especially my employer who pays my celery. [laughter] -- salary. [laughter] ronald: i think the media is better than it is given credit for. my concern is different. a student from stanford and said where do you get your news? they didn't read papers or watch television. all of the news was coming through facebook. when asked, what about the credibility of the story? they were not able to answer this question. one inre two teachers, virginia teaching american history on the fake news about how a person would ascertain, is this a reliable source? people are not asking that question. i am much more worried about the younger generation that isn't even reading the media or watching television. that is of great concern. gleaves: this is an interesting
question. the questioner asks, if you did have the opportunity to interview president trump, what would you ask and how would the interview go? what would you push on? i told you that people in west michigan are cynically engaged. [laughter] that is a tough one. [laughter] i guess the question has been asked before. have you made any bad decisions? are you willing to admit any mistakes you have made? this is what i found most prepared that perplexing. the unwillingness to admit something has gone wrong. if you look at the vocabulary of eat, itgreat, great, gr just keeps going on. the doesn't be much nuance in terms of the complexity of the life we are facing.
it is traditional for the columnist to meet with the president once per month. somehow that invitation was lost in my email. i would say, my general rule is don't ask about a past decision. they are usually so defensive that they will waste 30 minutes justified something that they already did. always ask, what are you thinking about the decision in front of you? --ried to get a sense president for different public to private. their private lives are much more normal, they are more willing to commit mistakes and to say we screwed that one up. a lot of with the do's character appraisal -- a lot of what they do is character appraisal.
someant to just ask him character appraisals and then just what is the thinking behind this and that decision? there must be multiple levels of subtlety. i would be curious to know, is there something beneath the show business? question fromis a a realistic point of you, all administrations go through periods of dysfunction. how the reason your way out of the current chaos of the presidency and our country? i think maybe some of the next candidates need to not be senators or congress persons, but governors who have experience in government, who don't come from the coasts, but
who have already demonstrated their ability, perhaps a democrat and a republican state to work across the line. who can really bring this skill. it is a skill. not sure who that person is, but that is the hope going forward, to find that person who can work across lines. think, you are coming from the west coast, you are coming from the east coast. is there something different about the midwest? or is it just a construct? ronald: i was born in minnesota. i love coming here. i spent a lot of time in illinois because of abraham lincoln. ohio because of ulysses s. grant. there are some more bedrock fundamental values. the problem today is we're listening to the extremes on the right and the left, there is a
great middle, a great moderate claiming the center. i'm sure those voices are in this room this evening. i think the midwest is one of the great regions of the country. i'm saying that because i'm here. [laughter] cultural generations -- i would say two things. in thes more equipoise midwest. there is a niceness factor. i got to know walter mondale. two quick minnesota stories. i was speaking in minneapolis. he asked if i wanted to have breakfast. i said, sure. i grew up with a walter mondale poster on my wall. lead.d, some talk, others even as a young boy, i knew i was the kind who only talked.
we had breakfast. we had mutual friends and talked about some old stories. when you are going to a convention, what is it like to be the person the convention is for? he said, you aren't really part of it. you come in the last moment, you give a speech and have a celebration and you are gone. the convention i saw least was the one where i was the nominee. that's interesting. he kept saying, he probably have to go do some work. i was saying, no, i'd rather talk to you. he said it three or four times. finally i said, he has to go, he is just getting me a polite way. i went to my hotel room and came back 20 minutes later and he was sitting there alone in the breakfast room. his modesty was such that he wanted to give me an out because he figured i had something important to do.
i find that with a lot of senators, like amy klobuchar. a beautiful, charming, nice human being. i was flying back from d.c. we were sitting in first class of the airplane and she went back to work in the back of the up and thehe came flight attendants are her come from the back to the first-class cabin and she said, i'm sorry, ma'am, you can't come up to. she looked at me and i am thinking -- i have never seen this woman before in my life. [laughter] there is a much greater equanimity that you can see. i would not say the midwest is more politically moderate than any part of the country. look who wins the iowa primaries. that is a point that i make.
you can have emotional equanimity without political equanimity. wins theeorge wallace democratic primary in 1972. ronald reagan wins in 1988. michigan has a -- reputation of going more out there. we only have time for a couple more questions. are you think biographers and historians will write about our current situation 20 years from now? we have the crystal ball right there. ronald: i only write history. [laughter] it is a tumultuous time to which we have no idea how it will play itself out. people said donald trump won't last for three or four months or a year. we have no idea what will happen.
there are forces at work that are different than what we have had before. it is a different political culture. it is frightening because it is so different. it would be foolish to make a prediction. as i have written one million times, i am not a fan. this is the most dysfunctional white house i have ever seen. my view is that donald trump is the wrong answer to the right question. a lot of people who voted for trump voted for legitimate reasons. having to do with social breakdown, economic dislocation, the moral injury they have suffered, a loss of dignity, a sense of invisibility. whether trump serves four year s or eight years, that will still be there. when you get a fundamental rupture along those lines, you get nasty stuff.
with the ruptures between the educated and less urban, rightal and and left. 1810 was a bad period for the british umpire. the collapse of british society. they had a religious revival that helped. the empire had a second burst of steam. it is up to us whether we can have that. gleaves: here is a question from ann arbor to stretch us. can a moral foundation for leadership he found outside of religion and a strong family structure? if so, where would that moral foundation come from? david: i would say yes. i know a lot of religious people . i am religious. a lot of them are wonderful. a lot of them are shmucks. i know a lot of atheists. some of them are wonderful and some are shmucks. in my life experience, i would
think that religious people would have a huge advantage over atheists as they talk about virtue all the time. but maybe a slight advantage or no advantage. one thing that universities can do. we can tell students, i'm not going to tell you what to believe, but you are the lucky inheritors of a whole series of moral traditions. there is a greek and roman honor code that celebrates glory, honor, and courage. there is a hebrew code that civil rights obedience to law and justice. a christian code that celebrates grace. a rationalist code that celebrates reason and logic. the scientific code. there are a series of moral traditions in the west and east and elsewhere. if you think you can come up with your own values -- if your name is aristotle, maybe you can
do that, but most of us can't. check out these moral traditions and feet which one fits you. there are plenty of people who behave -- we were talking about pericles and the greek honor code. there are great human beings who have commitment to grace and reason and science and are very sincere. there are a lot of moral codes driven by ultimate moral allegiance, but others that are not. as a matter of function, missing to work. ronald: one of my primary passions and discoveries and have writtenwe american biographies and away i don't fully understand, we have not told the story of those religious traditions. you read the biography of abraham lincoln and you have no idea how he could come to the place of doing the second inaugural address where and 701
words he will mention god 17 times, quote the scriptures four times, and invoke prayer three times. there is a profound religious story there. when i wrote my biography of grant, i asked myself, is there a faith story? i discovered that there is. if lincoln's was a presbyterian story, grant's was a methodist story. the methodist church became the largest protestant church in america by the civil war, long before the washington cathedral. methodist decided to build a national church in washington. they struggled with building it until the sun of a methodist -- son of a methodist was elected president. that church was installed four days before grant was installed as president. grant was a trustee. i am doing a new project on joshua lawrence chamberlain, the hero of gettysburg.
there is a profound congregational story. bangort three years at theological seminary. these are deep religious traditions but you don't often find this in the biographies. you read about these people and don't know this. i had lunch with david eisenhower. he told me, of all the presidents billy graham told me he had known, the person who had -- profoundnd conversations with was dwight eisenhower, his grandfather. he was baptized while president of the united states. you don't find that. there is the possibility of alternative ones, but let's understand the faith traditions that are present in some of our greatest leaders and build that story out. what nurtures character? i think the faith traditions are primary in nurturing character.
gleaves: thank you for a very enlightening evening. give them a hand. [applause] i want to close by saying, thank you to all of you who support the efforts whether it is the ford foundation, the ford library and museum, grand valley state university, for bringing programs like this to our civic spaces. in west michigan. it inspire students more than you know. thank you for your support. thank you for being here to lead a great conversation. good evening. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
[indistinct chatter] >> we kicked off the cities tour in dover, delaware and visited 12 state capitals. our next stop is tallahassee florida. we will be there said -- december 6 with live interviews on "washington journal." >> next we hear from two prominent chefs talking about their approach to cuisine and the way to make food and agriculture part of food curriculum. posted by "the washington post" this is a little over an hour.