America may seem polarized, but Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Jon Meacham said the current state of affairs is “actually more the rule than the exception” in U.S. history and can be remedied by returning to the principles of the nation’s founding.
Meacham spoke at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch on Tuesday and afterward signed copies of his recently released book The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels.
“It’s not a great moment if you are measuring overall social happiness in the United States,” Meacham told the crowd of more than 600 at the Kravis Center. “If you voted for the incumbent president, you believe that the country was inexorably headed down a path toward destruction and ruin. If you did not vote for him, you now think it is headed down a path toward destruction and ruin.”
Meacham called political “tribalism” the great problem of the age and said it goes against the ideals of the American revolution.
“The American Revolution, which continues to unfold even to this hour, was the greatest embodiment in western history that reason could take an equal stand against passion in the arena of public life,” Meacham said.
“If we don’t listen to each other, if we only watch one particular cable network or another, if we only filter out news sources that we tend to agree with, then we’re doing a disservice to the fundamental promise of the country. We’re not living into what the revolution was about.”
Paraphrasing Harry Truman, Meacham said Americans get the government they deserve.
“Politicians are far more often mirrors of who we are than they are molders. It’s the nature of popular politics,” Meacham said.
“If you don’t like what we’re getting, get in the arena and speak up. If you do, get in the arena and speak up. But don’t shout at each other because that’s not going to be true to that promise of the American Revolution. The American Revolution is about reason, not passion,” Meacham said.
Meacham described himself to the Forum Club as “not a partisan” and said he has voted for Republicans and Democrats in the past. He has been a critic of President Donald Trump and told The Palm Beach Post last week he wrote his latest book in response to Trump’s “singular failure of presidential leadership” after last summer’s deadly white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va.
During a question-and-answer period after his remarks, Meacham was asked what Trump is getting right.
“Look, the economy is doing quite well,” Meacham said. “The markets love the deregulation … Unemployment levels are at historic lows.”
Meacham added: “While I don’t think the moment is unique, this experiment in presidential leadership is. We just don’t know how this will turn out. He has decided to kick over most conventions, if not all, in an attempt to see how it works. And it could work out.”