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Posts Tagged ‘Jon Meacham’

This morning the sun is out and the temperature should be going above freezing. Underneath our coating of snow, crocus are beginning to awaken and cardinals are singing. For the first time, in a long year, I’m feeling hopeful.

Last night Bob and I attended the first in a series of USN Evening Classes. All the proceeds from ticket sales help to sponsor their need-based scholarships. First night always features a celebrity lecture, and this year did not disappoint with a third grader’s dad on the ticket. I’ve heard Jon Meacham speak before at Monticello, so I was looking forward to his insight on the state of this so-called presidency.

“We’re still here!” Meacham exclaimed, to the room of muffled laughs.

This Pulitzer Prize winner and presidential biographer went on, without notes mind you,  to remind us of his love for Andrew Jackson, “I like genocidal maniacs with a heart of gold.” More tentative laughter… Meacham dismisses Mr T’s comparison to Jackson, a fabrication of Bannon’s doing, telling us he is a simple “real estate impresario.” However, we must not dismiss his followers.

In May of 2016 he interviewed candidate Trump in his tower. Meacham arrived early and was standing alone in the huge gilded lobby on Fifth Avenue, when a family of four came through the door. They were tourists, all-middle-American folks. The young boy looked up at his dad and said, “Do you think he comes through this same door?” That beatific look of wonder, as if they were visiting a holy place, was the reason he was elected.

Mr T, like a carnival barker, managed to sell his “MAGA” movement to the forgotten middle class of the rust belt. For a family of four to live a normal middle class life in our country, they must earn at least $130,000 a year. Meacham told us that would allow them the minimum benefits of owning a home and a car and taking one vacation a year. However, the median middle class income for that same family today is around $55,000 – and the reason Mr T won lies in the difference.

Trump offered his followers the American Dream, the “Right to Rise,” as Lincoln said. Only his nationalism is a leftover from our post-WWII prosperity, with women in the kitchen and people of color knowing their “place,” and his tactics are closing our country’s borders figuratively and literally. That last part is my opinion, and part of the reason I’m marching with women on Saturday. Again.

The rest of Meacham’s speech was filled with enlightening, little-known anecdotes to illustrate his Four Characteristics of a Successful President:

  1. Curiosity – Jefferson’s insatiable intelligence
  2. Humility – JFK reaching out to Eisenhower during the Cuban missile crisis
  3. Candor – Churchill reported all the facts, he was a straight shooter
  4. Empathy – Poppy Bush, Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall

Meacham ended by reading a poignant letter that George HW Bush had sent to his mother about the loss of his three year old daughter, Robin, to leukemia. “If you want to know someone’s heart, you have to break it.”

I walked away last night wanting to read “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”  My step, on the icy parking lot last night, wasn’t hesitant; it was as light as a feather, and my heart was full. The voter registration forms I left in our local coffee shop are almost gone.

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What are the qualities of leadership? Are true leaders born, or are they made? I was listening intently to Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham at Monticello this past weekend. He was launching his latest 500 page book, “Thomas Jefferson the Art of Power.” The third President, I learned, was a master at seduction. He had dinner parties at his home here in Charlottesville, and at the nation’s new White House; however he would invite only members of the same party. He didn’t like argument in his private life, but in this way he made friends of his political enemies – maybe the first colonial frenemies? Jefferson was the master of mutual concessions; he managed to win over Federalists by the pure force of his personality. He knew how to build compromise and encourage coalitions. In fact, Meacham likened him to Bill Clinton. One of very few presidents who could not only maneuver politically, but could govern while also thinking philosophically.

“…but every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.”

Who does that remind you of? We are not blue states and red states? Always paranoid about the British returning, which of course they did, Jefferson practiced the politics of optimism. And optimism, I believe, is something you are born with. He knew that politics is inherently contentious, yet he dared to depart from the dogma of his party. Is there one Republican member of the house today who might dare vote to increase taxes?

The Greek tragedy of General David Petraeus’ resignation was unfolding while we listened to Meacham, and to his credit, he never mentioned it. But I couldn’t help think of the juxtaposition; how Jefferson’s legacy has been tainted by his relationship with the enslaved Sally Hemings. Petraeus’ reputation, some might say, was a great veil that the Pentagon wanted to protect because we Americans like to think he helped to “win” the war in Iraq. However, after reading this Atlantic article, titled “General Failure” by Thomas E Hicks,
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/11/general-failure/309148/ …we learn how widespread the failure in our military leadership truly is, and why those two wars (one that was sold to us by lying about nuclear weapons) were doomed from the start. Hicks barely mentions Petraeus, only to say he came in near the end and helped to arm the Iraqi army, thereby inciting more civil war. The General who threw it all away over a woman 20 years his junior, it turns out, was flawed like the rest of us.

Meacham said of Jefferson, “If flawed people can do the good work he did, then maybe we can too.”

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