tv The Civil War Jon Meacham on the Civil War CSPAN April 20, 2019 7:00pm-8:00pm EDT
watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. next, pulitzer prize winning presidential historian john meacham talks about what we can learn from history and how it can provide context for current events. "theiscusses his book, america," which slick set the civil war and argues that the nation has survived and improve. this talk was part of the american civil war museums annual symposium at the library cohosted by the university of virginia center for civil war history. now, i need to perform a more pleasurable duty of introducing a special guest. one of america's preeminent historians, jon meacham. many of you know him as the author of several best-selling
biographies, which are listed in your program, including the pulitzer prize-winning andrew jackson in the white house and he has also had recent appearances at the funeral of george herbert walker bush. of his manybject baggers. mr. meacham is in great demand and he arrived rate -- late last night and will be leaving shortly after his talk with us today for another special appearance in california. i know that some of you brought your books with you and wanted him to sign in that sort of thing, and regrettably, he cannot do that. we are absolutely delighted that he chose to be a part of this experience with us. manydition to his high-profile public roles, mr.
meacham is a member of the council on foreign relations and the society of american historians and is distinguished visiting professor at vanderbilt university. this morning, he is our distinguished speaker and we hope that this whirlwind visit will not be his last. gentlemen, i would like to introduce mr. jon meacham, with the keynote address. [applause] jon: i'm not really all that distinguished but thank you. somebody once introduced me as one of america's most prominent public intellectuals, and i'm like that's like being the best restaurant in the hospital. you want to win, but it's not that hard. thank you, i will do all i can to get through this and not have to resign.
i'll wait. it is kind of funny. [laughter] i am always happy to be here. one of the things that -- when i hear nice words, like what christie said, i was thinking i , think i am all of those things. god doesoes back -- as to make us humble -- to this moment about 10 years ago on the washington mall at the national book festival. i was on my way to give a talk about andrew jackson and a woman ran up to me, which does not happen enough. [laughter] or ever. and she said oh my god, it's you. and i said well, yes. existentially speaking, that's hard to argue with. she said i love your books, they mean so much to me. will you wait here and sign your latest one? and i stood there thinking this is exactly the way the world is supposed to be, women are
supposed to run up to you, by your book and run up to you. she brought back john grisham's latest novel. [applause] so, whenever i think i have the world right where i want it, i remind myself that somewhere in america, there is a woman with a " copy ofthe runaway ofy," -- with a forged copy jury," because you have to sign it. the story goes on, tragically. at that point i was writing a book about president bush and i went on my way to maine that day. the next day at lunch, in a transparent attempt to get a compliment, i told this story to president and mrs. bush. mrs. bush looks across the table says how do you think poor john grisham would feel, he is a very handsome man. [laughter] so i am hoping this weekend goes , better. here to talk about history, in
virginia it's like talking about oxygen. it's what you breathe. i am a native of chattanooga, tennessee. i grew up on missionary ridge. the battlefield, you know it. about 600 yards from bragg's headquarters. one of the things i love about the mechanics of memory is on missionary ridge, we have an ohio reservation, an illinois reservation, and a sherman reservation. who do you think had the money to put up that monument? i could still find shrapnel in the yards through the 70's. so history for me has always been a tactile thing. it is something that was
entirely real. and it is a tried but true illusion that william faulkner was right when he wrote in requiem for a nun, the past is never dead, it is not even past. we see that again here in the life of the nation. i want to talk a little bit about why i believe history matters, not as an intellectual pursuit but as a cultural one. and as a political one. as an act of citizenship. the reason i talk about the way i talk about things, and sometimes people listen at the airport, they get a little upset. imagine a dorky hari krishna, that's what i am here i think it opens the aperture of conversation that has the capacity to illuminate as opposed to educate. almost every political conversation we have at this point agitates and does not illuminate. we are reflexively partisan, this is clear that it is a
perennial force in american life that started with federalists and republicans. it started with jefferson and adams and hamilton. but the social science is hard to argue with. we are evermore divided. just because something has happened before does not mean it is not happening now. one of my favorite statistics on this is president eisenhower had a 50% approval rating for his eight years among democrats. president obama had something like an 8% approval rating among republicans. i think the incumbent is below the margin of error. among democrats. that's a real thing. if you are like you and me you want to say yeah but for sumter was pretty bad and what about
the copperheads? this is annoying to most people to do that. i do believe that if we don't look back, we cannot look ahead. that sounds like a coffee mug remark, but i do fundamentally believe it. i speak in historical terms. i talk in historical terms because i think it has the biggest chance of bringing both sides of this great divide into a conversation. conservatives love tradition, they want to talk about original intent. they love the ideas that we might wear powdered wigs. let's talk about the past. progressives love data, they love science, they are children of the enlightenment where reason has capacity to change our minds instead of simply having us follow the dictates and the whims of passion. let's talk about it that way.
it is not a panacea, it's not necessarily working well given how we judge our results. i think it is the best chance we have. to me, the work that the museum is doing in the work that the library does is an essential act of citizenship. because it enables us to talk about important things in a way that is not reflexively partisan and innately sulfurous. which honestly, is too often the way these conversations go. i wrote a book last year called the soul of america, i chose the title deliberately. i think we all basically agree on what the idea of the country is, what the creed is. it's encapsulated in the words
of a great virginian and american, thomas jefferson, who wrote the most important sentence ever written in the english language, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. every era of american life that we would want to emulate or that we tend to commemorate our eras in which we have more generously interpreted what jefferson meant. if you can think of an era that you would like to go back to that you think it would be better to live in, i promise you, it is more likely than not than that era was one in which we were busy knocking down walls. not building them. when we were redefining, in a broader and more generous way, what the mainstream of america thinks. we have always grown stronger the more widely we open our
arms, and this is not a partisan point. i have voted for democrats and -- i'm not a democrat or republican, i have voted for both. i live in tennessee, survival for doesn't matter. [laughter] -- so who i vote for doesn't matter. [laughter] we do try. it is simply a historical fact. what happened from 1945 to 1965? immense prosperity. painful and overly slow work towards knocking down jim crow, tyranny abroad of t-bon and the resolve to stand against soviet totalitarianism. it was a remarkable period, what characterized it? an opening of our arms. and opening of the idea of what the country should be, and what individuals should be allowed to enjoy, the actual implications of what we say we believe.
the central insight, the brilliance of the civil right movement in the middle of the 20th century was not a claim for special treatment but a claim for equal treatment. you say you believe that, why don't your actions follow your words? it was the most compelling part of the rhetorical case that dr. king and others made. it was basically saying if you want to be a hypocrite at least acknowledge that you are being a hypocrite. what was the basis of that argument? it was history. go watch the august 28 march on washington. it draws on the bible, it draws on my country tis of thee.
written in andover massachusetts in 1831. he draws on the declaration of independence, and what does he ask? he asks that if we are going to be a sweet land of liberty, we have to live into that creed. it was a historical argument. it was moral, but he brilliantly framed it as a historical one. i think there is an enormous power in that example. as we try to come out of or at least ameliorate a moment that feels so reflexively partisan. a few thoughts on that. i will say, parenthetically, i said jefferson had written the most important sentence in the english language. i am careful about that kind of claim. largely because of the story of the texas school board candidate who was against teaching spanish
in public schools and said if english was good enough for our lord jesus christ, it is good enough for texas. [laughter] i will tap the brakes on that. my other favorite texas story is i have a list of stupid things i , have said to governors, one is from george w bush. the first time that him was when he was the governor in 1998 or so. he was running a front porch campaign having people come down and we were chatting and he knew i was from tennessee and said i will show you a portrait of sam houston. i wasn't thinking and i said, that's right, if it weren't for tennessee, you would still be part of spain. he said, that is pretty fine. -- pretty funny. it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. [laughter] the second stupidest thing, it's parenthetical but it's all you
will remember, the second stupidest thing i ever said to a governor was chris christie. when i was out talking -- i wrote a book about jefferson and i got a call from chris christie. he said i want to talk to about jefferson. he was great company, a fun guy. we are talking and he said you know i am more of a hamilton guy. and that basically means you are an investment banker. i wasn't thinking and i said , that's great governor, but at least my guy did not get shot in jersey. and that damndest thing happened, i couldn't get back into the city. all of the bridges were closed. [laughter] the reason i call this the soul of america has because we know what we should do, we have a moral sensibility, commonsense,
scottish moral enlightenment, we know what it is. self-evident. but we don't do it. and the nature of history, the story of history, the study of history, the application of history, is the conflict in the soul, which in hebrew and greek means breath of life, when jesus says greater love has no man than this then to lay down his life for this, life could be translated as soul, it's the essence of who we are. it is not that the soul is captured by one side or the other, my view is that the soul has the capacity for the clan to dwell in it and for dr. king to dwell in it. every moment is shaped by the battle between those two forces.
if we get to the better angels, winning 51% of the time over those worse impulses that's a good day. that is true of us. don't you think it's true of you? it is true of me, i'm already at 30% and it's only 9:00. but a republic is only as good as the sum of its parts. it is a human manifestation, not some clinical distant realm. it is, in fact, a reflection of who we are. and that is the most uncomfortable thing i will say to you this morning. if you are unhappy with american politics, if you are unhappy with the incumbent president or if you voted for the incumbent president, you were so unhappy with the last guy and his potential successor that you
were willing to roll the dice on the single most unconventional major party nominee in 242 years. and he will tell you that. if you are that unhappy, we only have ourselves to blame. because politicians are more often mirrors of who we are, rather than molders. uncomfortable truth. and yes i understand federalist 10, citizens united, and i have heard of social media, i understand all of those issues. but as you all know, the 1850's were pretty bad. there was no twitter, but do you think a lot of southern slaveowners were subscribing to the liberator so they could get the other view? [laughter]
i don't think garrison made a lot of money in south carolina. i get very impatient with that. people think that twitter will destroy james madison, and i want to say jefferson funneled money out of the public treasury to fund an opposition newspaper to his president. it sounds like something that would happen with the brother-in-law and the sons of trump. ask michael cohen, he will tell you, he probably wrote that check. [laughter] just because it happened before does not mean it has not happened now. i'm not being dismissive of the current problem but i think the beginning of an informed citizenship and the beginning of a lowered blood pressure which enables us to think, as opposed to react, begins with a historical understanding. it begins with the great gift of proportion that history offers.
i want to talk about three quick things that i think are some characteristics that come out of our historical consideration of how we can think. i frame them in terms of the leaders of the era, but in point of fact, if i am right, and the republic is the sum of all of us, we need to apply this ourselves. the first is that any era of broader public achievement and happiness, and great leadership, has been marked by a sense of curiosity. when your man jefferson sat down to write that sentence in philadelphia in the late 1876, can you imagine adams, franklin, sherman, livingston, and jefferson.
i would give them anything to do. he was able to write it, not simply because he was a rising young politician of virginia, which he was. he was 33 years old, so was jesus, when i turned 34 years old i was very depressed. he was able to write it because he was part of a transatlantic conversation about what had been unfolding in the four centuries heading to philadelphia. what had been going on? first and foremost, johan gutenberg and the introduction of movable type may literacy and democracy and reformation more possible. we still live in a world that gutenberg helped to create. world of the protestant reformation's, the translation
of the sacred scripture into vernacular, the rise of the bourgeoisie, the scottish moral enlightenment, the entire world -- in entire korean tort -- reorientation of the world, from being seen as where popes, princes, prelates, and kings, by an accident of birth or incident of election had reflexive and automatic authority over all of us. that was the world before the 18th century. philadelphia marks the great political manifestations of the shift from a vertical to horizontal understanding of reality. that we were born with the capacity to determine our own choices, as opposed to entrusting that automatically to someone who had either won an election in rome, or was born to the right monarch.
that shift, i think, was the most important shift in western life since constantine converted to christianity. we still live in, i would argue, the sunlight of that shift. there are many shadows. it was not complete. it is still not complete. it was, in the words of the preamble, a journey towards a more perfect union. perfection has never been a stated goal. it is just making it a little more perfect. i think history can offer us a sense of proportion. without that curiosity, jefferson would not have been part of that broader conversation. unlikely we would have set out on this particular path with these words guiding us. that is the we need to be first one. curious. second is humility. i don't mean that in a franciscan sense, though that is important, but the capacity to
admit when we made a mistake and learn from that. that may be the hardest thing in our current climate. we would not be here, many of us, maybe any of us, if john kennedy had not been able to admit that he made a mistake and learn from it. he comes into office in january of 1961, he is determined to be like james bond in every way by the way. he wanted to upend the eisenhower era top-down decision-making. he wanted to move quickly. he believed in guerrilla action. he believed in counterinsurgency. he wanted to run things with his brother from out of his back pocket. launches the invasion of the bay of pigs in april of 1961. total disaster. kennedy said in a parliamentary system i would have to resign. wandered around saying how can i be so stupid? he did something courageous.
he reached out to the one person on earth before whom he least wished to be appear to be in need of tutelage, his predecessor dwight eisenhower. as daniel patrick moynihan once said brilliantly, no one once a predecessor or a successor. think about it. it is actually very insightful. he knew that he needed to learn how to do this. eisenhower drove over from gettysburg, where he had retired. they meet at camp david. wonderful political pictures from this. two men walking up the path to the cabin. eisenhower walks him through. he said did you have a meeting? did everyone involved -- were you able to do the pros and cons with everyone there? kennedy said no. he had run it in a disorganized way, so the stakeholders were able to spin him without being fact checked and counterbalanced by the other voices in the room. eisenhower said you can't do that.
cut to october of 1962, kennedy is shown photographic evidence of the deployment of nuclear weapons in cuba. put it 15 minutes away from washington, 90 miles away from florida. estimates of an exchange of nuclear weapons in the fall of 1962 range between 70 million and 100 million americans. my view is that it would have been hard to have a hemispheric exchange and not have it escalate immediately into an intercontinental one. the whole order of life could be gone. he remembered what ike had told him. i know there are many people here who believe they have been part of the world's longest committee meeting. but in fact, the longest committee meeting i know of was the executive committee of the national security council, which lasted for 13 days in the fall of 1962.
we came through the missile crisis, not least because kennedy was willing to learn on the job. one of the many tragedies of dallas, as of ford's theater, is that in lincoln and kennedy we had two presidents who were clearly learning on the job and losing the fruits of that is particularly tragic. he was able to do it because he was able to admit a mistake. i don't know about you all, but that is the hardest thing in the world. i make mistakes all the time, and the last thing i want to do is admit it. but if we are not, if we don't, then we are not being true to what jefferson was talking about, which is that we have to use reason. we have to respond to changing circumstances. we have to acknowledge data when that data is compelling.
one of the original insights of the american experiment, besides the notion of innate equality, was in fact that reason could take a reasonable stand against passion in the arena. it was a remarkable insight. it was not exclusively american, but we were the fullest political expression of that. so when people say there isn't original intent, i wish they would pay more attention to that, than trying to make the drier terms of the constitution literal. reason matters enormously. curiosity matters enormously. humility matters enormously. the last thing worth thinking about as we move forward is a level of candor. being honest with ourselves and with each other about the scope and scale of great national
enterprises. let's not kid ourselves when there is something clearly unfolding in front of our eyes. it is incredibly seductive, isn't it, and tempting to do that? a lot of us think this is a new phenomenon. because i live a very exciting life i was reading walter lippman last week, which i don't recommend. outsource that to me. in public opinion, published 1922, he wrote that he worried that americans define and then see as opposed to seeing and then defining. they define and see as opposed to seeing and then defining. he did not use the phrase fake news.
he did not use the phrase tribalism. he did not use the phrase alternative political realities or red versus blue, but he migmight as well have. it is a natural human impulse, right? we want certitude in the chaotic tumult of the president. why wouldn't you want a worldview that defined absolutely everything? that took any event that happens out there and makes it understandable and manageable as either part of your side or a manifestation of the horrors of the other side? very seductive. richard hofstadter called it the paranoid style of american politics. if you haven't read that in a while, go back and read it. read the second essay in the collection called "the pseudo-conservative."
if you do what i do for a living, it is incredibly depressing. hofstadter in 1953 wrote everything that we need to know. basically talking about populism and the media. it is fascinating. hofstadter saw it. it is a seductive way of going. why not have a world view, a creed, a prophet, text, holy days that enable you to live a life of absolute certitude as opposed to dealing with what william james called the blooming, buzzing confusion of reality? why not? why not is what jefferson was talking about. why not is that is not reason. that is tribalism and a kind of passion. it is thinking with your gut and not your brain.
america, when we are doing this right, which we do not always do, obviously, is that we give the brain a chance with the gut. we at least let them get in the ring and slug it out. that is a very uncomfortable image i just offered you. candor. we have to be honest about these things. the great architect of this philosophy is winston churchill. churchill -- we all think of churchill as the great figure of may 1940. "i felt as if i were walking with destiny, and all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.
i was sure i should not fail" is what he said on may 10, 1940. that is what he said after leaving the palace after the age of 65, being in the house since 1900, he finally reaches the pinnacle. churchill was a mixed bag. as roosevelt once said, "when winston is right he is right, but when he is wrong, my god." [laughter] the other story which is the only thing you will remember from this morning, it has no relevance but is a good story, churchill is in the men's room at the house of commons one day at the long trough. clement attlee, the socialist labour prime minister, comes in. churchill steps away. attlee looks at him and says, are you feeling standoffish today, winston? churchill said no, it's just every time you see something big you want to nationalize it. [laughter] there's really no significance to that at all. in the conversation about socialism, which apparently is coming at us suddenly, keep that in mind. what churchill saw was the
covenant of modern democracies, in many ways, was about being as straightforward as possible in a fallen world about what was unfolding. we think of him as the heroic figure. 1942, early 1942, he is facing a vote of confidence in the house of commons over his conduct in the war. singapore has fallen. pearl harbor happened. we have no capital ships in the pacific. hitler's on the move. it is not a good moment. churchill writes a 10,000 word defense of his policy. he was -- churchill was always a war reporter. that is where he started. he later said, talking about how honest he could be about how hard the rest of the war was going to turn out. he said, the british people, or the american people, can face
any misfortune with fortitude as long as they are convinced that those who are in charge of their affairs are not deceiving them or are not themselves dwelling in a fool's paradise. it is an interesting test. we want to make sure you are not lying to us and you are not lying to yourself. if we can check those two boxes, then we are in. that is true looking up the power structure. it is also true looking around. let's be honest. sometimes the person with whom you cannot stand, the person you can't stand, might have a point. sometimes the people you adore are really wrong. an old buddy of mine, old boss of mine, and buddy, charlie peters of charleston, west virginia defined intellectual
honesty this way. i've never heard a better definition. intellectual honesty is being willing to say something bad about the good guys, and good about the bad guys if that is what experience suggests. we don't do that enough. i would argue that history, the enterprise that is unfolding here always, particularly with the museum, if we don't engage honestly, forthrightly, and rigorously with the history of who we are and how we got there, then the enterprise of becoming a more perfect union is foreclosed, because we are not like miranda in the tempest. this is not oh, brave new world that has such people in it. remember what her father says? 'tis new to thee.
we never want to be miranda. i am a white, male, southerner, episcopalian. some of that is redundant. i am fully aware that it is easy from my cultural vantage point to be more optimistic and clinical about the country, its past and its future. i totally get that. i also believe that -- a, i'm right. at least, this is my opinion. you can take it or leave it. that is what america is about, right?
secondly, if people who look like me don't argue from history about what has made the country truly great, then the argument becomes even more divided and even more divisive. if we are not curious, if we are not humble, and if we are not candid, the enterprise frays and falls apart. i will leave you with this. i was lucky to be george h.w. bush's biographer. i will say this. the movement from george h.w.
bush to where we are now in terms of the presidency in many ways disproves darwin. [laughter] i stole that line from henry adams. if you're going to steal, steal from henry adams. that is a basic rule. george bush was not perfect. by far. he did a lot of things to amass power. but what, to me, what always redeems him is once he had it, he used it against self-interest. he opposed the 1964 civil rights act, but in 1968, actually in congress he voted for fair housing, much to the fury of his constituents in houston. he ran a ferocious campaign against michael dukakis, but instantly tried to govern in an atmosphere of collegiality and compromise. he pledged never to raise taxes, but the good of country required
it, so he did it. he knew it then. he said in his diary that night in a lincoln-esque phrase "i'm going to be dead meat." the key to doing his voice is mr. rogers trying to be john wayne. that was dana carvey's great insight. i think there is a unique document in presidential history -- a letter that president bush wrote to his mother in the late 1950's. the bush's lost a daughter to leukemia in 1953. they did not talk about it much. george w. was born in '46, robin in '49, jeb in early '53. when they brought jeb home robin was bruising and tiring easily. the first time they heard the word leukemia was in the pediatrician's office in midland. she died six months later. they had two more boys. then their daughter was born in '59.
about 1957, 1958, president bush wrote a letter to his own mother about robin. i want to share part of it with you, partly because i firmly believe that if we can apply many of the lessons we've talked about, we will have a character that will, i think, be more in line with this one. if i could be 10% of what this letter represents, i will be way ahead of the game. he wrote, "there is about our house a need. the running, pulsating restlessness of the boys needs a counterpart. we need soft, blond curls to go with our crew cuts. we need soft, blonde hair to stand with our forts, and
rackets and thousand baseball cards. we need a legitimate christmas angel. one who does not have cuffs beneath the dress. we need someone who is afraid of frogs. we need someone to cry when i get mad, not argue. we need a little one who can kiss without leaving egg, or jam, or gum. we need a girl. we had one once. she would fight and cry and play and make her way like the rest, but there was about her a certain softness. her hugs were a little less wiggly. silently uncomfortable, she would stand beside our bed until i felt her there. she would crawl in, and somehow she'd fit. 'my daddy' had a caress, a certain ownership which touched a slightly different spot than the 'hi, dad' i love so much. but she is still with us. we need her, and yet we have her, and we hope she will stay in our house for a long, long time."
in the course of writing about the president, i asked him to read that letter out loud to me. long before he finished, he broke down in an extraordinary level of physical crying. so much so that his chief of staff came in, saw what we were doing, and asked why did you want president bush to read that? i said, if you want to know someone's heart -- and before i could finish the president said, you have to know what breaks it. that is who we should be as a country. thanks very much. [applause] >> we have about 10 minutes where you can ask your questions of jon meacham.
i'm going to say, i will steal this moment for a second. i have a question for you. what i would like to know, and we talk about the importance of history, and these people with us today obviously appreciate and understand the nature of history, but what do we do in an age of self-curated content, where people are finding their own snippets and creating their own histories around it? how do we fight back against something like that? jon: i know you don't mean this, so i'm going to tweak it. hit me in the head if i'm wrong. i don't think we want to fight back. i think we want to be additive, right? the invention of history do you know the phrase deep fake?
has that reached you? it is interesting. it is technology that enables hackers or propagandists to create a video barack obama giving a speech he never gave or whatever. it is so good, bob corker, the tennessee senator who just left the senate who was the chairman of the foreign relations committee, he said one of the scariest moments of his 12 years in the senate, which included afghanistan, iraq, syria, and north korea, was being shown this presentation. he realized there would be propagandists who will be able to truly manufacture history. that is a huge issue. i think the tribal impulse to create myths, to create your own stories in the sense of driving political action that is not
about taking into consideration the good of the whole, but only being about the good of the few, is a perennial one. i think that the enterprise that the museum is about has to be insisting on at least this. that is a common set of facts. there is an objective reality with which we all must assent. we can then disagree. in fact, the country was set up to then disagree about what those facts mean. but, to use a local example, there was a peninsular campaign. there was a wilderness campaign. there was a battle of chattanooga. we can argue about why that
happened, although i don't think we should, because alexander stevens took care of it in the cornerstone speech. we could argue about the implications of the results of those things. the anxiety that he is talking about is do we slip into a kind , of totalitarian mindset, habit of mind that might erase that history? or take the facts and twist them and change them to what we want them to be? the interpretation can be what you want it to be, but the underlying reality has to be acknowledged. i think there is a pernicious campaign afoot in the country to change that acceptance of facts. if you don't like something you
simply say it is fake. even if it is self-evidently true. that is a dangerous thing. >> mr. meacham, i brought along my book with the hope that it could be signed. jon: bring me the book. >> i do want to ask you a question about it. i would like to know what the next chapter of the book would be, since it appears to me that your theme of hope and fear, as illustrated through the events of your book, does not involve the president in the creation of the fear. i am wondering, what is the role of the president concerning hope and fear in the age we are in right now? jon: go back two sentences, sir. >> the president is not the protagonist of fear in most illustrations in the book. jon: that's true --
ok. thank you. bring me the book. [laughter] you don't actually care about the answer. [laughter] what is your name? >> randy rollins. jon: randy rollins all right, randy. what was the question? just kidding. [laughter] i just wrote, to randy rollins. great question. there you go. here we go. i think the most analogous moment to where we are now is probably reconstruction. it is probably 1866-1867. you have a president that does not have a natural political base who has risen to the pinnacle. he is conspiracy minded.
he is governing for a particular base of people. and he is out of sync, i believe, with the fundamental current of a tradition of american fair play and generosity. that is what i think. take it or leave it. i think johnson was like that. i think we lived in this country from appomattox to selma with functional apartheid. we still have its vestiges, which are more than vestiges. it is a perennial struggle to make those jeffersonian words real. when presidents are pulling in the opposite direction it makes it really, really hard. it puts a stress test for
citizenship on the rest of us. i think there are four or five institutions that are factors in republican progress, lowercase r. there is the president, the presidency, the congress, the courts, the press, and the people. as long as two or three of those are pulling in the right direction, i think we get through this. the constitution was written for moments like this. your man from montpelier totally understood that we were driven by appetite, ambition, we were sinful, far more often we would get things wrong than we got them right. we have proven james madison right again, and again, and again. that is what the document was written for. it was not written for sunny days. it was written for cloudy ones. randy, here's your book.
can i just say quickly i know i am in richmond because there is a guy with a bow tie and pocket square on saturday morning. [laughter] >> i would like to thank you for your writings and words. i have found personally they have given me hope. if there is one structural change you could implement in the american political system to restore some of the concept of common good, what would that be? jon: that is a great question, and thank you for your kind words. i never thought i would get this geeky, which i know is surprising to you. i honestly believe now that if you could go into each state and draw congressional districts that were geographically driven,
and not politically driven, that would begin to change the character of our decision-making and the nature of it. one of the things, and you can take this word forth, the one thing elbridge gerry is known for is gerrymandering. and yet we call it jerry mandering. the poor son of a bitch, let's at least give him that. president obama was working on this and i said can really start calling it gerry mandering? i think that horse is out of the barn. ok, mr. president. if i'm right about what i said before, that they are mirrors of who we are more than molders, then if you can get a diverse population that a lawmaker is accountable to, then you enhance
the incentives for deliberative compromise and the spirit of what the founders meant. i am not a brookings institution guy. i'm not saying the middle way is always the right way. the middle way was not the right way on slavery. it was not the right way on women's suffrage and women's rights. it was not the right way on jim crow. it was not the right way on the cold war. is not the right way against hitler. there are moments when one way is the right way to do. nine times out of 10, you can go 60-40 or 50-50. what has happened because of a number of structural factors is it is hard to get to the 50-50 point. i am basing this partly on talking to a lot of people in
the arena. at some point you have to credit what they say. they say it is harder than it was 20 years ago to get things done. i will say newt gingrich. they will say, yeah, but -- if you had a house of representatives that was accountable to a diverse ideological group of voters, you would have ultimately better governing results because they would stop -- they would have less of a reason to be afraid of my favorite verb, being primaried. which i heard the first time about 10 years ago. the central concern most people have is they do not want to invite a primary challenge. the one thing i would do is if you could postage stamp the districts. it is not very sexy, but i think it would have a real effect. is that it? [applause]
>> gentlemen and ladies, jon meacham. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [laughter] tonight on american history tv, former u.s. secretary of state condoleezza rice joins senior fellows and neil ferguson in a conversation analyzing the changing role of u.s. democracy in foreign policy. here is a preview. >> let me break it down a little bit and go through several arguments that people would make bleeckerat the
democracy is more appropriate. people haveould be lost faith in the democratic institutions and this is true across consolidated democracies. we know those polls about how americans feel about congress, the media, even the supreme court, the only institution that seems to have widespread support in the united states would be the military. how are we to think about the lack of faith in institutions as a harbinger for trouble for democracy going forward? you make the point that populism is not necessarily anti-democratic, but it is a force that goes around your institutions, directly to the people. that's the definition of populism. this breakdown of faith in institutions, which madison would have said was essential to self-governing, is that one
reason to be concerned about democracy? >> i think it is a wake-up call to the institutions. you mentioned the media and it is certainly true that public respect for the media is at a states, in the united but can you blame people for feeling that way? can you blame people for having a low view of her fictional politicians, of legislators in congress? it seems to me that it is entirely understandable that the public feels that way and the fact that it is a high level of respect for the military is significant, because that was not true at the time of vietnam. what you can see in the military is a learned important lessons from vietnam and has done an enormously good job cleaning up its act and winning back present -- public respect. that is what the media has to do , because they have lost it badly. >> learn more about the changing
role of u.s. democracy in foreign policy for the past hundred years. tonight at 10:30 p.m. only on c-span3. on lectures in history. georgetown university professor joseph mccartin teaches a class on industrialization and the workforce from the 1960's through the end of the 20th century. he describes emerging achnologies like computers, decrease in union power, and an increase in wage inequality. his class is about 50 minutes. prof. mccartin: welcome. of course i am joe mccartin increase -- in case anybody has forgotten. today, we're going to be talking about a period from 1968 to 1988 that i