tv Jon Meacham The Soul of America CSPAN May 27, 2018 5:00pm-6:01pm EDT
process, pretty elitist process, dominated by a group that was increasingly out of touch and out of step with the very group that was the majority -- the democratic caucus. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. >> booktv is on twitter and facebook and we want to hear from you. tweet us or post a comment on facebook. facebook.com slash booktv. [inaudible conversations] >> good evening and work to new york historical society. i'm the historical president and ceo and i'm really thrilled to see so many of you in our beautiful robert h. something i
auditorium tonight. this evening's program the soul of america, the battle for our better angels, is a part of our bernard and irene schwartz distinguished speaker series and i'd like to thank mr. schwartz for this great generosity which enables to us bring so many fine speakers to the stage. i'd also like to acknowledge that this program is a part of our presidential historical commission at new york historical society, and john meachum is both a member of our presidential historical commission and a trustee of new york historical. he is joined by another a number of other new york historical trustees and i'd like to recognize and thank them for the amazing work they do on behalf of this splendid institution. first i'd like to thank and acknowledge tower chair, pam schaffer no her outstanding
leadership. [applause] >> i'd also like the think trustees judy, susan, glenn, russell, julian, and david. and real really the work that our trustee does is just quite incredible and i'd like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. [applause] >> you will hear from my very talented colleague, dale gregory, the vice president for public programs here at the close of the program. tonight's program lasts about an hour and will include a question and answer session. you should have received a note card and pencil as you entered the auditorium. it's not my colleagues are going up and down the aisles with note cards and pencils. they will be collected late are on in program with your questions on them. i'm thrilled to welcome new york
historical trustee jon meachum to our stage this evening average member of the council oregon foreign relations and of this society of american historians. he is also a distinguished visiting professor at vanderbilt university, contributing writer to the "new york times" book review, and a contributinged for at "time." he is the author of several best-selling books and he was awarded the pulitzer prize in 2009, for "american lyon: andrew jackson in the white house." our moderator is willy geist, the host of nbc news sunday today with willy geist. also a co-host of msny as morning joe and a'ing most contributor "today" and nbc nightly news with lesser hot and -- she is an author of good
talk, dad, and american frequent show, as always, i ask as our speakers join me on the stage that you please make sure that anything that makes a hoise, like a cellphone issue is swimmed awe. now please join me in welcoming our speakers tonight. [applause] >> everybody you. >> no, after you. >> good evening, most important ---my mom and dade dad have arrived. i. >> but uncle herb is not here. >> how is patrol. >> that's a long store about my mom's brother.
happy birthday tomorrow, dad. this your -- >> bill geist. [applause] >> and happy mother's day next week. this is your gift so please enjoy that. please enjoy. >> i demand a rain check. >> so when john called me and asked me to do this, he is a dear friend of mine. this first thing i said was, jon, how close is it to my apartment? >> exactly. exactly. >> that's how i feel strongly but and within ten blocks so i was willing to good. if itself was 12 i would have had to charge you a little extra. >> joe lives closer he would be here. >> i'm always happy to by your backup plan. we are really worried but willie's career because -- first of all, went to vanderbilt because he couldn't -- yeah. he couldn't get into salonie, which was tricky. swanee -- it's best flood as a
combination of downton abbey and deliverance. >> let you marinate in that. >> exactly. >> jon was nice to take time out of his busy television schedule. i'm sure he has to leave in the next 30 minutes. >> atm cam ray have not been on. >> be on robinbird byrd. >> the soul of america. >> jon also is an expert tennis player. i don't know how many of you know this. the plays in bellemead in a senior league. is it 80 and over or -- >> look, they're really good. they're really fit. >> he drops shots all the time. >> exactly. >> it's a sad story. really is. but enough but your deficiencies, jon. let's talk about your book
instead. the soul ofmer. checked before we cage out right at the top of the amazon lift. chasing chip and joanna good-gaines. i must say i think that's good for america, that people are buying cookbooks instead of dish really. do it's maybe their in some way the band played near i my god to the on the titanic. our last meal is going to be good. >> so, let's start -- thank you, john, start with the title, the soul of america. that can be a nebulous term. what does it mean in this case. >> it is nebulous but it's ancient. soul for socrates, through aristotle, equineus is like being on morning joe. the other okay -- >> never going to get to the book. >> just one more story.
so, we're citying there and the -- city sitting there and the picture of ve day flashes and up i hear willie say, oh, jesus, another meachum setup. whenever you see a black and white picture -- >> he has had dish mean this totally sincerely -- a pavlovian reacts to the crackling audio of harry s. truman. he was on his phone and went -- it's my turn. and sure enough, jon, what would you think? ve-day. >> soul of america. it it pass a pagan concept and philosophical concept. meaninges e essence or breath in the fate of what it is that makes a man a man as opposed to a beast. sorry for the animal rights folks. but the answer is, a soul. in hebrew and in greek, it means breath. when god breathes life into
mankind in genesis can the worden be translated as soul. when jesus says -- life could be translated as soul. and so what i wanted to do was -- this was born after charlottesville. my friend, the great historian, who i'm sure you know, nancy gibbs who was running "time magazine" did called and said do you have something you want to say? i decided to look back at four our five moments where the politics of fear had been prevalent. moments like the 1920s when they put 50,000 klans men on's a avenue without maximums -- without masks, just marching along. the larger point being that just because something happened before doesn't mean it's it's not happening now but we also have overcome it and we should not be endowing the problems of the moment with super powers, as if they're indestructible
because we can fight them and there are lessons for that. so the soul to my mind, was when peek talk bit they onmean america needs to save its soul, as in by meaning should be doing whatever you think is right, usually how you define that. in point of fact there's an eternal contention between lying and dark and our best and worst, and there's room in this soul for the klan and for dr. king, and every given era is defined by the battle between those two, and whether the better angels can win out, at least for a brief period of time and that's not -- it's not sentimental. not a homily. it's a clinical examination of past events that produce the hourness which we live now show that there are moments where ore
mother generous impulses can win out. maybe not for clock and maybe not complete live but hatcracied a country where our immigration issue is that people want to come here. and i think that's -- i think we should bear that in mind. >> there's an instinct for every generation to think of their moments or their problems as unprecedented. it's the most overused word in the media and perhaps in -- >> ever seen this before? >> always the question. >> because it's easy to say. feels bad. couldn't have been anything worse. but this has how have this long view of history. put this moment, the trump era in political pivoter. >> i think in terms of personality this most leak the mccarthy era, and sometimes god gives you these things. roy cohen represented them both.
amazing people out in the audience looking for a project, we need a good biography of roy cohen and you probably do it as trump and just change the name. it will be fine. so, i think that you -- there you had a demagoguic figure with a kind of egg e ethnic folks who believe the elite were conspiring against them. after a bitter bogey man than algier his. not unlike the hillary clinton for trump to take on, the embodiment of the forces that people believe were and are cor con conspiring them gem to limit their culture and take away the
way of life and that's a recurrent american theme start good luck he 1790s. when john adams passed the alen sedes sedes digs took a president could deport rid individuals he wanted to and close down newspapers and printing presses with which he disagrees. john adams didn't call it affection -- fake news. i i think calling it unprecedented i 0 problem. nostalgia is a powerful nor katic. i'm prone it to. it's know only narcotic. it does disservice to the past. i you were john lewis and you were sitting here and you heard willie says in the common
conversation, things have never been as bad as they are today, oh, really? he nearly died in the streets of america 5052 -- 52 years ago, beaten by an official in the state of alabama because he wanted to vote. in the lifetime of, dare i say, virtually everyone in this room. so trump tweeting is worse than sheriff jim clark and his possess see possessee trying to kill john lose in the streets of selma, a.m.? is it worse? i don't think so. any native region in tennessee, within the last -- within the lifetime of everyone here almost, if you wanted to register to vote and you were an african-american you should -- usually opened the offers for one hour a week, wins from 4:00 to 5:00, something like that and the registrar would put a box of soap, detergent, borax,
something like that, on the desk in and i, you can register to vote if you can tell me how many flakes of soap are in this box. go read lyndon johnson's speech of 1965, the we shall over come speech. the described the various rick test thats registrarses in fought put african-american froms through. functional aapartheid. major equalities not yes three years old and there's a glib talking opinion but no one has ever seen such rapid progression as on marriage equality and sexual identity rights and usually it's a heterosexual saying it is moving fast. don't city a lot of gay folks saying, we're really pleased we have been accepted so quickly. don't really hear that. women have not voted for quite a century yet. 98 years.
98 years. so, pretty bad. and yet we are in a better place today, we are what we fought for is always fragile. you can't bank these advances. yet there are -- there's backsliding, yes, chipping away at the rule of law. i stipulate that. my point is not, we've come through this before so it's all relax. my point is, we have come through this before so let's figure out how we came through it before and do that again. and that voice is a protest and resistance and bearing witness to the fundamental idea, and i'm exterior say is in hamilton's home town, but fundamentally that thomas jefferson had it right. sorry. i could wrap this if you want. >> please don't.
>> all men were created equal, and america has been defined for the better the more generously we have interpret that sentence. as a practical matter. strongest nation in the world. we have immense long-term economic problems, the culture is divisive. we're tribal, nobody wants to listen to each other. all of that is true. but at the same time, people want to come here and we're committed by and large we're committed to the idea of fair play and equality of opportunity. so the phrase, as you point out, more perfect union, not a perfect union, and there were always moving, we think, in the right direction. >> we hope. >> hope we're moving in the right direction and felt like probably to most people in the room like the country was. we elected our first
african-american from in 2008 and looked like we would elect the first woman president and we didn't. so a lot of people it felt like we're moving forward like that and then we stop dead in our tracks. >> welcome to a fallen world, team. sorry. adam and eve should have made a different decision. the reality of history, it is not going to be totally smooth. franklin roosevelt, the great -- said there's a line after newman apairs with peaks and separate ultimately trend is upward and put a trend is a trend, it's not inevitable. i think it is remarkable -- i didn't think -- i'm a boringly heterosexual southern white man so i didn't think that barack obama was going to win until -- what was the 8 been -- 800-point day.
september 20th. i didn't think america was ready for someone named barack hussein own tone be -- obama to be elected president. in we discount the very fact of barack obama having been president for eight years. kind of amazing. and i think, and maybe people can argue this as digging no a several lining unreason blow -- trump others lex, if nothing else, is a ratification of the fact that the country is inexorably changes demographically issue socially and -- the last gasp of the white populist anger. it's a close to last gasp. might be morganses. but it's in the last three or four.
because the only way you could get such a ferocious reacts is if the evidence of the action were not so overwhelming. the strength of the backlash is an affirmation of the up mat path here. we're not going to be a majority white nation for very much longer. it's a radically different -- generational question that is fascinating here. the millenial -- i've met one -- random house actually hired one for me to talk to. >> host: how did that go? >> not well. not well. the one they sent me was -- >> the one. >> no. it was good. i think they have a factory. it's organic. i made an illusion to -- i said
we're going to do a show continue, conversation like carson, and she said, oh, carson dali, i love him. so get out your booster seat. >> host: carson daly is a good man, though. >> oh, we're all for it. >> it's changing very rapidly. the strength of the reacts is affirmation of that, and i think the other thing that i think is really important -- kind of painful for us to conjure but we have to do that to be honest, eleanor roosevelt said the most important thing to do is to face facts. politicians are far more often a mire roar of who we are -- mirror of who we are than a molder. we get the presidents we deserve, as hair tritruman said and it may be uncomfortable to think about but there's something about where we are now
that we're more like a reality tv show than we might want to admit. and i -- that's an unhappy thing so say. st. augustine -- another wednesday -- once defined a nation as a multitude of rational beings united be in common objects of their love. a multitude of rational beings united by the common objects of their love. so what we have to ask is, as a nation, what do we love in common? and right now we don't love enough in common. we are too tribal. we pick and choose the facts we wish to acknowledge as facts, but at our best and i would say one of the great hours in american history would be this very month in 1945, not just because bill geist people and the world, that was a
manifestation of the experience of the second world war, was it serve in no. there was juan executive order to try to integrate war industries that eleanor roosevelt pushed her husband to sign but the military was sill still segregated. the internment of japanese-americans is a great bane. frank fran roosevelt saved america except for that. but we're kind of an "and yet" country. he we do something great, fight for freedom around the world, project force establish flirt other lands and yet we won't live into it fully here, and i think what we have to be about is, let's see if we can reduce the number of sevens sentences in the "and yet" paragraph.
>> there is a school of thought that trump is an aberration. in november of 2016, and that he wasn't representative of where the -- where we're headed but he was moment in time. you believe that or you believe he is a signal of something that will come. >> it will inevitably recure because it's ady difficult world there are recurrent patterns, it cass called the paranoid style in american politics. race sim, self e sexism, selfishness and greeds are endemic to the human condition. the remarkable thing is we have by and large managed to do as well as we have. again, this is a white guy saying that so take it for what it's worth.
but all in all, people would rather be here than not be here. die think trump is an aberration? i think he is a manifestation, a personification of unattractive forces in the national soul. that's why i say there's not some pure america and then we have these moments where things -- somehow we're taken over, we're hijacked. there's a drive-by shooting of some kind. he we have to, i think, be honest that not quite as often as not but damn near, we get it wrong. and if we don't acknowledge that, then we can't be armed to figure out when that and is get it right. so, to anesthetize ourselves by saying that trump is an aberration is i think kind of a false reassurance.
>> did he tap into not only the vein of things you have been talk talking but, economic problems and racism and all those thing, combined with him being incredibly famous and being a household name and a guy who does branding who can sell himself as a suspect in we have seen some low level trump guys who have run in the last year in special elections and primaries who have not won because they thought they had the trump thing but didn't have the part of the trump thing. >> it is a remarkable, again, whether you're for trump, it's an alignment thereof planets. if not it's a world-ending meet you're attack. honestly, hillary clinton may have been the one democrat he could have beaten and i say not not because of secretary clinton herself because but because there were ten presidential elects between 1980 and 2016 and a bush or clinton was on 80 possessor of -- 80% of the
ticketsment that is a time of stagnation wages that's is part of the the two numbers that tell us largely why he is president. one is -- i just realize this the other day -- one is $130,000 but not that 1,300,000. >> there's another one? >> don't get too excited. honestly, it's a true number. that is the number that the commerce department estimate it costs to pay porn actress -- no. -- i have another quick question. why its always a porn star? y there are no porn supporting character actors? willie, tell me why? >> well, we're on c-span so i'm not going to answer but i'll tell when i get off stage. in her defense i think she is a legitimate star. she has been decorated, won all the awards, in her case it
applies. >> excellent. >> you were saying something but fdr. >> yeah. the thing but. >> the thing but john tyler -- 13 on thursday is what commerce department estimates family of four needs to lead a classic post world war ii middle class life. so in that gap you have room for a populist insurgency. the number that scares me even more is that 17% of americans trust the federal government. that's down from 77% in 1965. so, we have gone from more than three out our four americans to fewer than one in five, and so what happened, i think, is to some extent i think enough voters in the right states said to washington, you know, if bogey going act like bunch of professional wrestle are, we'll send you one and his
president -- everybody talks but twitter for understandable reasons -- the real vernacular hemade, like roosevelt mastered radio and kennedy master television -- trump builds suspense and pits characters against each other. i'm announcing the iran nuclear deal at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. from his account. and you can hear the music coming almost. to the ayatollah, you're fired. and i didn't -- never watched the apprentice. >> sure. >> no, i -- >> high-brow credential. >> now i'm living in it. we're sort of trapped in this endless loop. as if the truman show war horror movie. so i think that he understands where a huge amount of the country is culturally.
in a way that honestly probably does not. you asked about have we -- historical precedence. trump wants to be andrew jackson and not many people do. and he was coming down to the hermitage -- he hadn't actually -- doesn't know much but jackson. ... >> thinking about becoming president, it was a brief conversation. [laughter] but one of the things is then i called i now refer to as the late steve bannon -- [laughter] gave him this jackson analogy after the election. and he put the portrait up in
the oval office and all of that. and in march of this last year, '17, he came down, trump came down to nashville where willie was educated. it's kind of the bethlehem of the geist dynasty. [laughter] >> thank you. >> i'll explain that later. [laughter] to lay a wreath at jackson's grave. his 250th birthday. i'm sure you all had a paint ball duel up here or something. [laughter] so i was sitting at home where i live, and i was thinking i should do something. so i wrote an open letter to the president saying that if you're going to embrace jackson, don't just embrace the crazy parts, all right? jackson, and jackson could be crazy. he once said his only two regrets in public life were he had not hung henry clay,er of the -- speaker of the house, and shot john c. calhoun who was, calhoun was his own vice president. [laughter] we all know no one felt that way about their running mate until
john mccain. [laughter] [applause] so, but jackson, i think, was a more sophisticated political actor. he believed in the union, he believed that we were one great family, and he was a good negotiatorrer. he understood. so i wrote this letter saying if you're going to embrace jackson, embrace the whole jackson. it ran on the front page of the tennessean, the local paper. it was the only thing on the front page that day. had no effect, of course. so then parenthetically, the next day i was walking into lunch, and my cell phone rang, and it was my most recent subject is, george h. w. bush calling. he'd been in the hospital a lot all last winter. i answered, of course. he said, how you doing? is. [laughter] the key to doing george w. bush is mr. rogers trying to be john wayne, as dana carvey once said. [laughter] how you doing. he said, i'm fine. he said i read your letter to jackson. i thought, you know, the old boy's losing it, right?
be he's 92, he's been in the hospital. i said, mr. president, thank you, it's great to hear from you. i said, actually, it was a letter to trump about jackson. he said, yeah, but jackson will pay more attention. [laughter] [applause] so he's fine. if you're worried. he's home, you'll hear from him again, i'm sure. >> that's right. >> so the question a lot of people are asking now is if you look over the horizon to the post-trump era whether it's three years -- >> like planet of the apes -- >> -- seven years, whatever it is, how do we put this thing back together? because you write about how others have put it back together in america when it felt like it was not going to be put back together. when we're running to our ideological corners, when we're calling each other names because of politics, how do you bring it back together after trump? >> i don't want to mario cuomo you here, but i want to pick
apart the premise a little bit. >> yes. >> we have called each other horrible names forever, and it's almost more the rule than the exception. what feels different is that we're reading them in our pockets. we're reading them right in our face. and that's more visceral, right? and one of the things technology has given us multitudes, as whitman might say, but it has also created the capacity to express an opinion quickly even be we don't have an opinion worth expressing quickly. and i think that's a big question. i think it does require a kind of personal discipline and dignity. there is -- i was thinking about 1968 earlier today for some reason, and there were 46 u.s. combat deaths a day in 1968, 50 years ago. the year opens with tet, johnson gets out of the race on march 31st, dr. king is murdered on april 4th, senator kennedy is murdered the fist -- the first
week of june. the year ends with george wallace winning 13.5% of the popular vote in five states. so if you look at 1968, it's kind of the year that everything fell apart, right? that's kind of the popular memory of that. so how did that -- and then it's followed by watergate. but then, whether you agree or disagree with them politically or not, carter, reagan, bush, clinton, that was a period of relative presidential stability. and enough prosperity that we were able to make strides with the role of women, with making sure the civil rights movement didn't fall apart. and so leadership, depending on who rises to prominence, will be important. but it's also our dispositions of heart and mind. a republic is only as good as the sum of its parts.
that's the nature of a republic. from plato through mack vel la to madison, the idea is we are able to self-govern, but what we are governing is the result of our hearts, our minds, our willingness to extend a hand as opposed to clenching a fist. and so it's going to be put back together, i think, in part because even if you're for president trump, you are not happy with the way things are going on in the country. or else you wouldn't have voted for him, honestly. so i think that, i think people who have supported him, i bet there ultimately is erosion because of this cultural chaos, and i think the people who -- i'm sorry, the people who support him, i think there will be. and the people who oppose him have not been as invigorated since the 1960s. it's kind of a golden era of
protests and resistance. these young people down in parkland in florida on the gun issue, they could be the john lewis and diane nash of the civil rights movement of our time. it's certainly possible. you know, the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of women who have engaged. you know, there is something in the american tradition where we ca p lean from guardrail to guardrail. try to imagine a set of more different people than these, george herbert walker bush to bill clinton. remember clinton goes on arsenio hall, right? bush thought arsenio hall was a billing at yale -- building at yale. [laughter] bill clinton to george w. bush, two sides of the baby boom totally. george w. bush to barack obama. which i would have thought was the starkest move until we went from barack obama to donald
trump. [laughter] which in many ways disproves darwin. [laughter] so what does that tell us? trump's successor, aristotle is on his way somehow. [laughter] >> oliver wendell holmes is next -- >> is that what i said this morning? >> >> yeah. jon and i were on the air this morning, morning joe, he had to produce the document that showed michael cohen's shell company had received -- 4.4 million worth of payments from a partisan -- >> i need a shell company. >> yeah, you do. you do. [laughter] so we do the segment, we ask all the questions, and michael avenatti walks up the step, and jon and i just looked at each other, and he goes can you believe this political culture right now? that was the attorney for a porn starr that the president is -- porn star that the president is alleged to have paid off, and we're sitting there getting some guidance from him on his research on what happened in the russia investigation --
[laughter] and we've taken it for granted now because it's all come so quickly, and we've sort of marinated it. it's crazy. it's insane. >> i said to avenatti, i said do you fancy yourself archibald cox or joseph welch? [laughter] because in a tabloid era, he's basically this remarkable figure. and it is crazy. to some extent though, there's a great question and we don't know the answer yet. we'll probably debate it as long as the english language is spoken, is trump a cause or an effect. probably both. probably both. and probably more an effect than we want to acknowledge. but the argument, the president, i think, is not jackson, is not the analogy. andrew johnson is probably the closest. honestly because he was someone who did not have a natural political base, he was a
democrat who was put on the ticket in 1864 in that difficult wartime election. by the way, we worry about american resilience, it's amazing to think that we had a competitive, open presidential election in the middle of a civil war. and that lincoln was fully prepared to step down if mcclelland won. just incredible. it was just assumed we would have it. not even a big debate. so when you go home and you find out that he's fired melania or whatever he's doing -- [laughter] remember that. sorry. [laughter] you know what? it's possible. [laughter] you know? >> everything's on the board right now. everything's on the board. >> you can't really make it up. >> you know, one of the things you do talk about though is the institutions holding up, by and large, over the last couple of years. and you said, you know, the founders would have been surprised that it took this long to get somebody like donald
trump into the office, and they designed the document for precisely this kind of a president. >> they, they were really worried -- aaron burr was kind of the trump of their era to some extent. did i tell you my christie story about that? >> no. >> oh, this is a good one. [laughter] hey, y'all. [laughter] so when i was out talking about thomas jefferson, i got a call from chris christie. this is before he became patty hearst. [laughter] and he said i want to talk to you about jefferson, will you come to lunch. and christie's great company. i went to trenton, and he said, well, you know, i'm really more of a hamilton guy. and usually that means you're an investment banker. [laughter] and i wasn't really thinking, i just sort of said, that's great, golf, but at least -- governor, but at least my guy got shot in jersey. the damnedest thing happened, i couldn't get back in the city, the bridges were all --
[laughter] what were we talking about? >> you've been using bridgegate humor for a couple years now. >> i know. >> i'm going to allow it. >> let it go. >> we're talking about the institutions. >> the institutions. one more point just rattling around about joe mccarthy. joe mccarthy, one month after the fall, the mccarthy hearings, joseph welch saying have you no decency, sir, at long last, prescott bush and others finally followed the lead of margaret chase smith. it was a republican woman, senator from maine, who first laid out the case against mccarthy in 1950, declaration of conscience. she only got six co-signers in 1950 against mccarthy. mccarthy dismissed them as snow white and the six dwarves. sounds like a tweet, doesn't it? [laughter] keep that in mind. mccarthy rode a wave of new media. five million television sets in
1950, 31.5 million in 1954. he rode it up and then it turn thed around and got him. turned around and got him. there's a lesson there. roy cohn wrote a very good book, or at least published -- i don't know if he wrote it -- on mccarthy in '68 in which he said, quite honestly, that he thought mccarthy's fall was a result of the american audiences' inability to sustain interest in hyperbole. that, ultimately, the audience got tired of the show. and i think, i firmly believe that president trump does not think of us as a country or a nation in the sense that august stipjanuary sense i mentioned. i think he thinks of us as an audience. and he's keeping us entertained, and he's trying to keep us in the seats. but i don't think it's going to happen. so you can get 34% of the people, which was that
mccarthy approval rating, to say damn near anything. we're really looking at a center of about 20% to convince them that we're stronger the more generous we are. >> okay. we've got audience questions. thank you, these are really good questions. i'm going to whip through a few of them in our remaining time. here's one. it reads: it seems that in every generation there was a leader who represented our better angels; jfk, mlk, rfk, etc. do you see someone out there who could be that leader in the years to come? >> it's a great question, and i don't want to get into listing names partly because it's what donald rumsfeld would have called a known up phone. known unknown. when you think about the last set of presidents, actually three years out you wouldn't have bet that they were going to be president. obama, bill clinton didn't announce until november '91 partly because he was afraid of
mario cuomo for one thing. cuomo decides not to run, president bush's numbers are very high. and the other thing about political culture is, with a few exceptions, ronald reagan being the most significant one actually, we do tend to favor those who seem newer to us. reagan ran three times, which is pretty remarkable, before he won. 1980 was his third run. he made a very serious run in '68 at the convention to try and stop nixon. and you can imagine how much nixon liked that. but carter was a new face. george bush had not run as a national candidate. george w. bush, first time he ran he won. bill clinton, first time he ran, he won. obama, first time he ran, trump, jack kennedy. so there's something -- eisenhower. so these figures are on the edge
of our consciousness. history tells us they emerge fairly late in the game in a cycle. but, you know, as bismarck is alleged to have said for some reason god loves drunks, little children, the united states of america. you know, we've been lucky enough to have the right person at the right time, and i'm confident we will again. >> got your bismarck quote in. nice job, buddy. [laughter] proud of you. >> that's a $5 bet. [laughter] >> here's an interesting question. [laughter] you'll get nothing and like it. here we go. you write in such a compelling fashion about moments in history -- >> there's usually a but after that. [laughter] >> it just says so, actually. so if there were a time capsule and you could travel back in time, where would you go, to which era? >> this is going to sound really weird. it's a great question. i would go to jerusalem in the spring of '33. and i'd want to see what happened. why was he arrested, why did the
romans crucify him. why did they go to that much trouble. where was he on sunday. [laughter] and then i would come back and make a lot of money. [laughter] >> more of a commercial enterprise than anything else, isn't it? >> god and man, baby. >> how does today's fake news epidemic compare to the lies and propaganda in germany during world wars i and ii? >> oh, i have an aversion to those analogies. because i don't think we have to go there to be worried. i think that this is a dicta that to have y'all -- dicking that to have y'all maneuver. you try to discredit the messenger because you're never sure what the messenger's going to show up with. the attacks on mueller, the attacks on comey, again, this is not speculation. he told let's arer holt -- people keep saying, oh, i wonder if he's going to answer a
subpoena about why he fired comey. he told lester holt why he fired comey, and i don't think lester has subpoena power. [laughter] maybe in the building, i don't know. but it is finish i do think the fake news attacks, and not just because of what i do for a living -- are among the most pernicious because in many ways, i'm going to be sentimental for a second, but i believe it. in many ways the american revolution is the greatest manifestation of the conviction that reason has a chance against passion in human affairs. the shift from hereditary power in the late 18th century from kings and princes and prelates and popes who with, by an accident of birth or an incident of election are, had control over the destinies of others, that vertical understanding, that shift through the american revolution, through the scientific revolution are, through the european enlightenment, through the
protestant reformations, through this translation of sacred scripture into the vernacular to a more horizontal understanding, the idea that kings and popes and princes couldn't tell us what to think, but that we were all born with the capacity to think what we wanted. that shift, of which the american revolution was clearest political embodiment is, i think, the most significant shift in western culture since constantine converted to christianity. and we're still living with the digital revolution in a chapter of that story, because it's about the diffusion of power from the hands of the few to the hands of the many. the digital world is faster, but there's a line between what's happening in your pocket with your phone right now and what guttenberg was doing 500 years ago. and what henry viii was doing and what martin luther was doing. it was about a move from collective, individualized
authority to elective choice and being able to determine your own destiny. and if you argue that you intrinsically cannot trust that which is reported and that which you are taught, then you are foreclosing the capacity, the possibility of reason to direct human affairs insofar as it can. and i think that's the pernicious thing about attacking journalists, attacking stories that you simply don't like. >> well, that's part of my concern when i asked you about putting it back together, is that there's a large percentage of the company that believes if it's in "the new york times" or on nbc news or on cnn that it's fake, it's garbage, it's not true, it's not to be believed. consider the source. i don't know how you undo that. like, they're suddenly post-trump, you know what? i'm going to renew my subscription to the times. everything's fine now. >> yeah. >> that's a tough one -- that's a tough bit of toothpaste to put
back in the tube. >> but what if they throw in a mug? [laughter] i think that's right. and i'm not sure this is an answer to it, but it might be at least a part of it. again, it's not entirely trumpian. remember the first target of this was dan rather. right? the republican -- roger ailes and others were quite brilliant at turning cbs news into the voice of the left-wing establishment. they raised a lot of money on direct mail off, you know, don't believe it if dan rather tells it to you. so i think the crisis in media trust is of a piece with the crisis that we talked about a lack of faith in the government itself. the only institution that does pretty well is the military. and i suspect that's more sentimental and guilt-driven because so few of us serve, so few of us have connections to those who serve, so we can make
ourselves feel better on a survey by saying, yeah, we trust them, they're heroes. but congress is below the margin of error. the media's close. at one point late in the bush administration i think dick cheney had an approval rating that proved more people disapproved of him than actually lived in america. [laughter] and he loved it, by the way. [laughter] that's right. [laughter] >> here's an interesting one for a southern boy. >> yep. >> what is your opinion about removal of historical statues which are offensive to some, sacred to others? >> i have a very nuanced position on this. and a deeply-felt one. my view is that in public places of veneration -- courthouse squares, courthouse lawns, state capitol buildings, whatever, a make place -- the test should be did the person being
commemorated devote themselves to the constitutional experiment in seeking a more perfect union. if they did but if they had other significant sins and issues like jackson, like jefferson, like washington all of whom were slave owners, all of whom were wildly imperfect men, but they were devoted to seeking that more perfect union, and i think that that is a legitimate act of commemoration. i do not believe that officers or elected officials of the confederacy belong in public spaces because they took up arms against the constitution and attempted to stop the experiment from continuing. i think schools, private schools, churches, homes, that's a fight for them. i don't think we should be in the business of dictating to private institutions from some sort of centralizedded commemoration police.
but we should have centralizedded commemoration police about public places. and so i, for instance, there's a bust of nathan bedford forrest in the tennessee capitol that drives me crazy. i don't think there are many lee statues, but robert e. lee -- and you'll get people who say, oh, he was about reconciliation. well, yeah, but that was only because he lost. [laughter] right? you know? if day two at gettysburg had turned out differently, i don't think he would have been for reconciliation. >> we've talked about this on the show and a little bit off the show about the hopes you may have had for donald trump, whether or not you supported him -- >> yeah. >> -- what he could have been as a president in terms of being the deal maker who would take pleasure in having schumer and pelosi in his office and cutting a deal and being sort of the new york democrat and real estate guy that he is, and he hasn't
turned out to be. is this still hope for that president to emerge, or is it too late? >> if i -- of course i have hope. it would be intellectually dishonest and a repudiation of everything we've said the last 52 minutes or so if i said that, oh, no, it's inevitable that he can never get better. because we're all imperfect, we're all driven by a multitude of forces, and sometimes we get things wrong, and sometimes we get things right. so of course there's home. of course there's hope. we were talking about this earlier today. if you want to see a glimpse of -- i didn't think trump would be a tragic figure because tragedy implies there was a capacity for greatness. ing richard nixon was a tragic figure, right? trump is more like -- trump isn't henry v, he's falstaff. [laughter]
but, and i thought that absolutely, i was totally convinced of that until a couple weeks ago when there's a piece of tape, a piece of video. remember that meeting he had with the congressional leadership and mike pence after the parkland shootings about guns in the cabinet room? if you haven't seen it, go look at it because it's a time capsule. it's a glimpse of what might have been. mike pence opens the meeting. dianne feinstein's sitting right here, and pat toomey is sitting over here, pence is here, trump is here like this. that's always kind of a dangerous tell, actually, when he does that. and pence kind of gives these nra talking points. and trump says, no, no. we're not going to do that. we're not going to do that. we've got to get the guns. you don't worry about due process if somebody thinks somebody's a threat and the nra wants you to get a warrant. >> he said i'd like to get the guns first. >> guns first, due process later. he said, pat, pat -- >> and pence just shuts up,
because he knows there's no percentage, you know? [laughter] and he points to pat toomey who looks as though someone has kicked him in the head -- [laughter] and he says, pat, we'll get that in the bill, right? and toomey's like -- [laughter] and dianne feinstein's going -- [applause] [laughter] and it was this moment where i thought, you know what? this is the american fantasy. this is the hollywood fantasy of mr. smith goes to washington or dave, remember? where there can be a president who is untethered to traditional special interests who can actually just sit, as willie says, apply common sense, cut through it all and get things done. and it's striking to me that he hasn't done that more because not only is it the right thing to do, but it's good for him. because, yes, he'll be president for four or eight years
presumably, yet, yet history's going to last a lot longer. and i think if i could talk to him, i would say, mr. president, you love ratings, you love success. we're going to be rating you and judging your success for the rest of the life of the republic. and so what do youen want us -- what do you want us to think when we look at your portrait on the state floor of the white house? do you want us to think this was an unconventional man who got extraordinary things done and people like us, people -- i won't throw willie in, people like me disdained you and thought you couldn't do it, but you pulled it together and became a unifying figure? be do you want p that to be the story? be or do you want it to be this was this ringmaster who came to town and didn't, didn't change. finish and divided us and kept us down. and i think if you appeal, you know, you've got to -- as jim baker likes to say, you hunt
where the ducks are. if you're talking to someone who's self-absorbed, appeal to their narcissism. >> we learned that from the saudis when they projected his face on the side of the hotel. >> yeah. it's like the bat signal. [laughter] >> exactly. well, i think that's a pretty good place to end. [laughter] ladies and gentlemen, jon meacham. [applause] >> booktv tapes hundreds of author programs around the country all year long. here's a look at some of the events we're covering this week. tuesday we're here in the nation's capital at the national press club for fox news' bret baier exploring ronald reagan's efforts to end the cold war. wednesday we're at the lbj presidential library in austin, texas, to hear cnn's chief washington correspondent jake tapper on his novel about capitol hill. also that evening we're in philadelphia at the free library where radio and tv host michael
summer connish will share his thoughts on the current political climate. thursday we fly out to seattle to hear peter stark detail the early military career of george washington. and saturday we're at the reagan library in california with former white house social secretaries jeremy bernard and lee berman sharing thoughts on professional and public civility. that's a look at some of the events booktv will be covering this week. many of these events are open to the public. look for them to air in the near future on booktv on c-span2. .