The Soul of America (2020) - full transcript

Present-day, fraught political reality by exploring historical challenges of the past.

History tells us

that this particular era
is difficult but not unique.

The forces that are shaping

the worst parts
of us right now...

are forces that are part
of the American character.

I just think we're
the most polarized

we've possibly ever been.

No society has ever
changed this much.

Thousands more families

were separated at the border.

It is time for the
return of men.

An attack on women's basic
human rights and civil rights.

Worst of the worst examples
from the mainstream media.

The number of hate
groups has doubled...

I think that history
gives us the ability to see

what is the scope
and nature of our crisis,

how have people in
previous generations

addressed those crises,

and are there lessons to apply?

Joining me now,
NBC news contributor

and historian Jon Meacham,
giving a history lesson.

It is a complicated
and... and fraught history.

We have been in
terrible spots before.

What we have to figure out
is how do we get out of them,

and what lessons can
we take to get through this?

I'm not saying it's
all gonna be fine,

but I think it's on all of us.

If we don't arm ourselves

with a historical understanding
of how complex our history was,

we're not gonna be able
to think clearly enough

to react in real time
to save the country.

It is not unexpected

that in these politically
tumultuous times,

we scrutinize our past

in order to understand
the present.

- Hey. How are you?
- What's up?

- Good to see you. Jon Meacham.
- Hi.

Tonight's speaker
has established himself

as one of the most reasoned
and enlightened voices

wielding the literary
scalpel examining history.

Ladies and gentlemen,
please give a warm welcome

to Jon Meacham.

Thank you. Um...

So, we're living in an era
of politics as entertainment.

Politics as an unfolding
and insistent drama.

And so, the question I
get asked the most is:

"Has it ever been like this?"

Second question is: "How
do we get out of this?"

And so what I'd like to
take are... are a few minutes

this afternoon is to talk
about some moments

that I think should give
us a sense of proportion

about the questions
of the present time.

Because we have
been here before.

If we had been here
101 years ago today,

what would have been going on?

Woodrow Wilson would be
president of the United States.

We would be fighting
the First World War

with a huge part of
the country wondering

why our boys were going to fight

for nations about
whom we knew so little.

In 1919, 1920, you
had a prevalent fear

that radicals,
socialists, communists

were taking the country away.

Woodrow Wilson cracked
down on civil dissent

and civil liberties.

A. Mitchell Palmer,
the Attorney General,

launches a number of raids
on suspected dissidents.

President Wilson closes
down 400 newspapers.

Immigration was at
an extraordinary high.

It didn't really stop until

the 1924 immigration

which put quotas on immigration
from different countries.

There was white anxiety
about cultural identity,

about economic opportunity,
that inspired the rebirth

of the Ku Klux
Klan in the 1920s.

1925 and '26,

50,000 Klansmen marched
down Pennsylvania Avenue

in what was a remarkable

but not stunning public display.

It was a big,
broad-based racist army,

and what they wanted to do
was make America great again.

The governor of Georgia
announced that he wanted

to build a wall of steel
as high as heaven

to keep immigrants out.


As Mark Twain once said,
"History may not repeat itself,

but it does rhyme."

Nativism, xenophobia, racism,

sexism, isolationism are
perennial American forces.

They ebb and they flow.

The story of race and fear
and anxiety and violence

is inextricably intertwined
with the story of the country.

It's not that the
soul of the country

has been captured

by a particular group
at a particular time.

The soul of the country
is, in fact, this essence,

which is not all
good or all bad.

You have your better angels

fighting against
your worst impulses.

And that has a religious
component, certainly.

It's also, though, a matter
of historical observation.

Our history is shaped
by the extent to which

those better angels or
those worst instincts win out

in a given period of time.

It was true in the 1760s.

It was true in the 1860s.

It was true in the 1960s.

And it's true today.

You will not replace us!

You will not replace us!

Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!

A white nationalist blogger

had called upon his followers
to meet here in Charlottesville

to protest the city's
efforts to try to take down

a statue of Robert E.
Lee from a city park.

When the Charlottesville
riots happened,

the neo-Nazi rally, and then
the death of Heather Heyer...

The editor of TIME magazine
at the time called and said,

"Do you have anything
to say historically

about the history of hate
in American politics?"

So I started with Reconstruction

and moved forward.

And it became a book
about the soul of the country.

The fact that, in
the 21st century,

people calling
themselves Klansmen

are in Charlottesville,

the home of Robert E. Lee,

basically fighting for

an antebellum
vision of the world

is a remarkable thing.

But it's not all that remarkable
if you know American history

and if you know that five
minutes after Lee's surrender,

the reaction sets in.

White supremacy replaced slavery

as the consuming concern
of white southerners.

Segregation replaced
human enslavement.

And so, when people say

the Civil War
never really ended,

that's pretty much
what they mean.

If the 2016 election
had gone the other way,

I wouldn't have written
about the soul of America.

Now I could just
write books about that,

or I could, as I do, try to
talk about it in real time

and hope that it
has some impact.

So, we have about 15
minutes until your talk.

- Oh, okay.
- Yeah.

Uh, is there some
place I can just...

- Be?
- Sit? Yeah.

The American story is a story

of more generously
applying the Jeffersonian idea

that everybody gets a chance.

Thomas Jefferson wrote,

"We hold these truths
to be self-evident,

that all men are created equal
and are endowed by their Creator

with certain inalienable
rights, among them life, liberty,

and the pursuit of happiness."

Jefferson didn't mean everybody

when he sat down to
write that in June of 1776.

He didn't mean women.

He didn't mean people of color.

He meant white men.

But the story of the country

is one in which we have
more generously understood

what that sentence meant.

Where we were opening our
arms and not clenching our fists.

On Saturday, one day after
the presidential inauguration,

thousands of women are expected
to march in Washington, DC.

- A - wave of protesters,

many in pink
knitted "pussyhats,"

gathered in the National Mall.

An estimated half a
million people turned out.

I really believed that we were

moving toward a world
where there was equality,

and I guess I was really
disappointed that, um...

the election showed that maybe,

I don't know, maybe
there was a backlash.

For those who think that
the country can't change,

I sometimes submit
that a hundred years ago,

more than half the
population couldn't vote.

To exclude women from
voting was to move them

to second- or even
third-class citizenship.

Our better angels tell us that
if all men are created equal,

then all men and
women are created equal.

To make that real is a
victory for those better angels.

The women's movement

out of which the
suffrage movement arises

really starts in the
antebellum period

in the United States,
so in the 1830s, 1840s.

By 1913 or so, there's
this phenomenon

called the "New Woman."

And the New Woman is this
young, independent woman

who works for a while,
forestalls marriage,

sometimes has a fair
degree of education.

And people hold up the
New Woman all the time

to say, you know,

"Woman has all the
rights she could need.

Why would she need the vote?"

In the suffrage movement,

the person who most
emblemized this New Woman

was Alice Paul.

She had gone to college.

She was a social worker.

She went to England.
And while she was there,

she became associated
with the suffrage movement

in Britain, which
was quite militant.

And then she would
come back to the US,

and launch a new chapter
of the suffrage movement

that was in your
face and unrelenting.

Alice Paul launched a
very direct campaign,

focused on the White House,
trying to get Woodrow Wilson

to endorse the
suffrage movement.

When he arrived in Washington
in 1913 for his inauguration,

he actually asked,
"Where are all the people?"

And all the people were
at the suffrage march.

There were floats
and delegations

from suffragists all
around the nation.

It's the largest parade
to take to the streets

in American
history at that point.

But the crowd becomes incensed

because, of course,

good, respectable
women don't do this,

and the crowd starts
attacking the marchers.

If you're a white man

susceptible to the
appeal of the Klan

in the second decade
of the 20th century,

"My God, immigrants
are taking my job.

Catholics are trying
to change my culture.

And now women want
to vote. What's next?"

You know, that was the view.

People are sent to the hospital,

people have broken bones.

And the police turn a blind eye.

But Alice Paul keeps up
this tactic of direct action.

One of the things she does
is start stationing picketers

outside the White House.

They had these banners

and they would just stand

silently outside the
White House gates.

We now think of this
as a familiar tactic.

That was brand new.

Alice Paul made a
point of having people

at every gate of
the White House,

so that the president
would have to see them

when he came and he went.

She was determined to
take the fight directly to him.

At first, Woodrow Wilson is

cheerfully tolerant of them.

"Oh, these cute little women,
they'll go away after a while."

And then winter comes,
and they're still there.

And then summer comes,
and they're still there.

And then World War I breaks out.

And you do not picket
a wartime president.

That is unpatriotic.

The problem is that they
are not breaking any laws,

so they trump up a
reason to arrest them,

and they say that they
have obstructed traffic.

And they start to
round up these women,

throw them into paddy wagons,
and assume they'll go away.

They go to court, they
refuse to pay their court fines,

they go to the workhouse.

More women show up.

They throw them in paddy wagons.

They go to the workhouse.

So you start to have a huge crop

of political prisoners in
Occoquan Workhouse.

There were hunger
strikes in prison.

They were willing
to risk everything.

The prison staff
thought they could

stop this hunger strike

by force-feeding these women.

They would put them in
chairs and literally strap them in.

And then you would have a tube

forced down your throat.

And then they would put a funnel

at the top of the tube,

and they would whip up
eggs or whatever it might be,

and then they would
just pour it into the funnel

and it would come down.

The women would vomit.

They had bloody noses routinely.

Alice Paul had stomach problems

for the rest of her life.

But the National Woman's Party

knows what's going on
inside the prison, right,

and they start publicizing
what's happening.

And this creates a
great deal of sympathy

in the American public
because it was so brutal.

But really it's a
million things over time

that eventually tip the scales.

A bunch of suffragists
go state by state

and get "male" taken
out of the constitution.

That is a dual strategy

working at the state level
and working at the federal level.

You've got two branches
of the movement.

The state movement

starts to win a
lot of victories.

States out west and
states in other places

start enfranchising women

and allowing them
access to the ballot.

It started to have a kind of
insurmountable momentum to it

that I think Wilson
eventually joined.

In 1918, Congress
takes up a vote,

and it narrowly fails.

And what the National
Woman's Party decide

is they're gonna
go to those states,

to those legislators
who voted against,

and they're gonna try
to get them out of office.

And by 1919,

they've gotten a lot of
those men out of office.

They take a second vote in
the House and the Senate,

and it passes both.

Change in America comes

when the powerful take notice

of what the people
have been saying.

And when those
two things intersect,

that's how history is made.

But the thing that
we can't forget

is that while this
suffrage story is unfolding,

there is simultaneously a
suppression of democracy

going on in the United States.

During that massive
1913 suffrage parade,

the great Ida B.
Wells, journalist,

anti-lynching crusader,
feminist activist,

comes in with her Illinois
delegation from Chicago.

But they're in D.C.,
which is a southern city,

and there are gonna be southern
congresspeople watching this.

And so Alice Paul says,

"No, we can't have you
march with white women."

And that's one
example of the ways

in which Alice Paul
was willing to embrace

and perpetuate racism in
the service of the movement.

And I think the suffrage
movement reminds us

that we really have to
be thinking constantly

about the ways in which justice
movements can do damage

while they're also doing good.

And I think that's a
caution to us today

because we're no different.

I grew up on Missionary Ridge,

a battlefield in
Chattanooga, Tennessee.

When I was little, you could
still find Civil War bullets

on Missionary Ridge and around.

So, to me, the history
was just right there.

I met Jon when he was 19,

and he seemed to me like
he was 30 when I met him.

He was just very
much an old soul,

and he was very wise.

He was sort of someone
who got on really well

with older people.

You could tell that
this was someone

who, at a very young
age, was really engaged

in the life of the mind.

At age ten, he
campaigned for Reagan.

And he was fascinated
by Reagan as a man.

We, as Americans,

have the capacity now,
as we've had in the past,

to do whatever needs to be done

to preserve this last and
greatest bastion of freedom.

I could have fairly
easily ended up

in some sort of young
conservative ethos.

But because I started in
journalism when I was 18

at the Chattanooga Times,
I almost immediately saw

that the world was a hell
of a lot more complicated

than either a
conservative ideology

or a liberal ideology
would have it.

By the time we
really got together,

he was at the
Washington Monthly,

which was like boot
camp for journalism.

We would have Friday
night dates that got cancelled

because we had to
drive up to the printer

because somebody
was late filing their stories.

And then Jon ended up
getting an offer from Newsweek.

I was an editor at Newsweek,

and the young Jon
Meacham walked in,

25 years old, maybe.

We talked for a little bit,
and I realized right away

that I'd be working
for him soon.

You are how old?

- I'm 29.
- Twenty-nine?

What's it like to be a
29-year-old managing editor...

- Closing in on 30.
- Okay.

What's it like to be a,
uh, closing-in-on-30,

uh, managing editor of, uh,
one of the big news magazines?

My guest tonight, the editor
of Newsweek magazine.

Please welcome back to
the show, Jon Meacham. Jon?

I remember thinking

he was a slightly
ridiculous figure

at Newsweek because
people usually dress sloppily,

and Meacham always
wore kind of a neat suit.

His hair was carefully combed.

He had this slight waddle
as he went down the hallway.

He was kind of prematurely
old and... an old-fashioned figure

surrounded by a lot of
people trying to be hip.

And I think he took
some grief for it.

I think people kind of
laughed at it a little bit.

But they weren't laughing
when he was working on...

When he was
working on their copy.

You know, I've
written about people

about whom much
has been written.

Thomas Jefferson,
Andrew Jackson.

And I've written about people

where it's kind of the beginning

of the conversation,
George H. W. Bush.

On the primary campaign
trail in New Hampshire once,

he grabbed the hand of a
department store mannequin,

asking for votes.

When he realized
his mistake, he said,

"Never know, gotta ask."

I've spent most of my life...

thinking about the past,

and thinking about how
the past became something

either worth emulating
or worth avoiding.

In the course of
a year, I can do

between sixty and a hundred
speaking engagements...

with people who
care about the country,

who care about history,

and are trying to
connect these dots.

So, one sign of consistency
in challenging times

is I appear to be
wearing the same necktie.


My hair is grayer, however,

so that may be because
of the 2016 election.

Uh, so 2016, uh,
how did it happen?

Two numbers, I think.

One is 17 percent.

That's the percentage
of Americans who say

they have trust in the
federal government

to do the right thing
some or most of the time.

That's down from 77
percent in the mid-1960s.

So that's a huge trust gap.

The other is $130,000.

That's the number that
some economists believe

a family of four needs in
annual household income

to lead what they would think of

as a classic post-World
War II middle-class life.

Annual income
for a family of four

is about 56,000
dollars right now.

So in that missing income
gap and in that trust gap,

you have the ingredients

for a kind of populist
moment like this...

where someone says,
"Those people are to blame

for the fact that you
don't have this money."

We are sick and tired
of people disrespecting,

coming over by the thousands.

We wanna make sure
that our borders are secure.

The US government is releasing

new video of the
child detention centers.

This shows children walled in

by a chain-link fence.


And so often, people
in American history

have felt that they
were on a precipice,

- and so they lash out.
- Build the wall!

You saw it with
white southerners

after Reconstruction.

You saw it with the second
Klan and immigration,

the shifting economy.

You saw it in the 1930s.

It's an incredibly
powerful political emotion.

And the great
political leaders...

are the ones who
don't cater to it,

who tamp it down
instead of flame it.

The 1930s have
a lot to say to us.

It was a period of
enormous ferment

of anxiety about
a changing world.

Technology was
changing the country,

the rise of radio,

people were moving
away from farms,

they were gathering in
cities, they felt alienated,

they felt lonely.

If we look at the
1930s, we can see

how economic anxiety,
isolationist tendencies,

nativist tendencies can
lead to a genuine crisis,

both at home and abroad.

The country is in the
throes of what becomes

a global depression.

We're paying the
price for isolationism,

paying the price for
instituting immigration quotas,

putting up high tariffs.

By the spring of 1933,
one out of every four

adult American
men was out of work.

There were riots in the Midwest.

There was a live
question about whether

democratic capitalism
would survive the decade.

We face that crisis.

We face it with
singleness of purpose.

So shall we win
through to a better day.

Onto that stage comes
Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

One of the brightest
young politicians

in the Democratic Party, 1920,

goes to Campobello
off the coast of Maine,

wakes up and can't walk.

Wills himself
back into the arena

and becomes, in a way,

the embodiment of
the American notion

that we can recover.

He believed we
could all walk again,

not least because he had
taught himself to walk again.

Let me assert my firm belief

that the only thing
we have to fear is...

fear itself.

So, when we think of FDR,

we think of the great line,

"The only thing we
have to fear is fear itself."

The line that got the biggest
cheer that day, though, was

the current crisis
is of such scope

that he might require powers

"as if we had been
invaded by a foreign foe."

Invaded by a foreign foe.

And the crowd roared.

And it suggested
to Eleanor Roosevelt

that they were
ready for a dictator.

Dictatorship was on the march.

Look at Germany, look at Italy,

look at the increasing

of the Soviet Union.

What did Franklin Roosevelt do?

I have shown our determination

in the past by action.

Franklin Roosevelt
stayed in the arena.

Action that is saving
and will continue to save

the constitutional

form of government

in which all Americans rejoice.

He insisted that we had
something worth preserving

despite its faults.

He fought against
fascists, the German Bund.

Madison Square Garden
was filled, 30,000 people,

a Nazi rally.

The isolationist movement

was centrally based on the idea

that we should not be
drawn into foreign quarrels

because someone was
always taking advantage of us.

If you believe that this country

should not enter
the war in Europe,

we ask you to join the
America First Committee

in its stand.

Dealt with isolationism

incredibly carefully.

We are keeping out of
the wars that are going on

in Europe and in Asia,

but I do not subscribe
to the preachment

that the United States
should do nothing.

World War II was opposed

by 40 percent of the country.

Again, this is why I
think history matters.

The more we understand

that it wasn't so
clear cut even then,

I would hope that would give
us some hope that you can...

We can find a way to
manufacture consensus

to solve the problems
of our own time.

Thank you. I appreciate
it. Hey. How are you?

Hello. Thank you for
coming to Westmont.

Thank you.

Yeah, I was just
interested in your comments

about the legacy of...

forgive me, but, like,
your generation and...

older generations.

Like, what kind of
legacy do you think, like,

your generation is leaving
behind for my generation?

Well, the jury... Well,
the jury is still out.


I think we've created
an overly partisan...

and overly reactive
world right now.

I don't think it's a great
legacy at this point,

but we have a little more time.

- That is true.
- It's close.

We tried to line up
a speaker for this fall,

and nobody else would come,
so I said, "We got Jon Meacham."

"He's an old friend of mine."

I'm supposed to introduce
him, so I'm gonna be polite.

Um, please welcome
my friend, Jon Meacham.

Thank you.

That was much nicer
than usual. Thank you.

So, let's talk about that
book, The Soul of America.

In it, you write about
the darkest chapters

in American history.

So when was the last time
the partisanship was this bad,

we were so divided?

I would say the isolationism
versus the interventionism

- of the late 1930s, early 1940s.
- The war?

There was more ferocity,
more vitriol over what to do

about Hitler than
even about Vietnam.

And it was solved for
us by external forces,

by Japan and by Germany's
unilateral declaration.

So it's not as though
we woke up one morning

and said, "Yeah, I
think we are gonna

defeat tyranny
and project liberty."

We Interrupt this
broadcast to bring you

this important bulletin
from the United Press.

Flash, Washington. The
White House announces

Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The attack on the
Hawaiian Islands

has caused severe damage

to American naval
and military forces.

What changed everything
was Pearl Harbor.

Bombs had been dropped,
Americans had died,

war had been brought
to us by the Japanese.

The number of our
officers and men killed

in the attack on Pearl
Harbor was 2,340.

Since the unprovoked
and dastardly attack,

a state of war has existed

between the United States
and the Japanese Empire.

In the wake of Pearl Harbor,

there were anxieties,

particularly along
the West Coast,

that Japanese Americans
might serve as agents

of the Japanese
imperial government,

an enemy force.

Word has just come
that some 91 Japanese

have been taken into
custody in Northern California

by the FBI.

In Fresno, California, two
Japanese were arrested,

their automobile
seized by police.

Within a day, the
Secret Service, the FBI

sweeps into cities
and urban areas

from Seattle to Arizona,

arresting community
leaders, martial arts instructors,

Japanese school language
teachers, Buddhist priests.

Our West Coast became

a potential combat zone.

Living in that zone were
more than 100,000 persons

of Japanese ancestry,

two thirds of them
American citizens,

one third aliens.

My parents met in Los Angeles

and they married there.

I turned five years
old on April 20th, 1942.

I'm the oldest, and my brother
was next, a year younger,

and my baby sister, Nancy.

Here we were in
the United States,

and the country was at
war with our ancestral land,

and so there was great concern
about what might happen to us.

The Attorney General
of California, Earl Warren,

and others argued that
people of foreign descent

were dangerous, were
potentially enemies of the country.

No one knew what would happen

among this
concentrated population

if Japanese forces
should invade our shores.

By February 1942,

President Roosevelt
signs Executive Order 9066,

and this empowered
the military to take control

of the eight most
western states.

General DeWitt is
placed in command

of that whole western region.

General DeWitt, uh, said
that Japanese Americans

are an enemy race.

He said very emphatically,
"A Jap's a Jap.

And a scrap of paper
attesting to his citizenship

doesn't alter that fact."

He began issuing
public proclamations

singling out Japanese Americans.

A curfew came down.

Japanese Americans had
to be home by eight o'clock

and stay home until
6 a.m. in the morning.

The government
froze our bank account.

Rents couldn't be paid.

My father's dry cleaning
business fell apart.

Everything was lost. Everything.

And then the soldiers came.

One morning, my parents
got me up very early,

together with my brother
and my baby sister,

and dressed us, uh, hurriedly.

And suddenly, we
saw two soldiers

marching up our driveway,

carrying rifles with
shiny bayonets.

And they stomped
onto the front porch

and with their fists,

began pounding on the door.

Uh, that sound still
resonates in my mind.

My father came out,
answered the door,

and we were ordered
out of our home.

We stood on the driveway

waiting for our
mother to come out.

And when she came out,

she had our baby
sister in one arm,

a huge, heavy-looking
duffel bag in the other,

and tears were streaming
down her cheeks.

We were taken by truck

to, uh, the, uh, Buddhist temple

in downtown Los
Angeles in Little Tokyo.

And that's where we
were all assembled.

The heads of the families

were ordered to report,

and we were given our
family number and tag.

And a row of buses
took us to Santa Anita,

where we were unloaded

and herded over
to the stable areas,

and each family was assigned
a horse stall to sleep in...

still pungent with the
stink of horse manure.

We were there about
three or four months...

And then we were
loaded onto trains

with armed soldiers at
both ends of each car.

We were transported two thirds
of the way across the country

to the swamps of Arkansas.

There were ten camps altogether.

Rohwer, Arkansas,
was the farthest east.

The camps were not
camps, they were prisons.

They lived in dusty barracks.

There were cracks in the walls,

so they had to
stuff newspaper in

to stop the wind
from blowing in.

They had common
latrines without doors.

The food was terrible,
inadequate medical care.

I did go to school,

and I remember we
began every school day

with the Pledge of
Allegiance to the Flag.

I could see the barbed wire
fence and the sentry tower

right outside my
schoolhouse window

as I recited the words,

"With liberty and
justice for all."

By the end of 1942,

you had almost
120,000 Americans,

people like my
mother and my father

who were born in California,
who are citizens by birth,

who had lost their property,
they lost their freedom,

some had even lost their lives

without any trial,
without any charges,

and for no offense.

We were incarcerated
for the duration of the war,

four years.

When we were
freed, we had nothing.

For my parents,

everything that they had
worked for was taken away.

We know now that
if we lose this war,

it will be generations
or even centuries

before our conception of
democracy can live again.

It's one of our most
shameful episodes.

And a reminder
that even in the midst

of a global campaign
to defend liberty,

someone as otherwise
remarkable as Franklin Roosevelt

was able to make a
decision that violated

fundamental principles of both
human and American rights.

The internment's
a cautionary tale.

When we give in
to the worst in us,

we exclude, we
oppress, we marginalize.

Are we gonna look back
at the child separation

on the southern border in
the same way we look back

on slavery and segregation and
Japanese American internment?

I'd bet yes.

Hey, how are you?

I didn't wanna disturb you.

- You're just like...
- Good to see you.

All the youngsters
you see in the street.

I know, I know, I know.

I'm trying to earn my
living while on the road.

- Everything's well here?
- Oh, it's great.

It just gets better
and better here.


The other day when
you were on MSNBC,

you were talking about
Trump being so emotional

and the Democrats sort
of trying to talk reason.

- Right.
- It was such a simple...

- Reason versus passion.
- Yeah,

such a simple statement
that you don't hear that.

- I specialize in those.
- You don't hear those.

I try to be as
simpleminded as possible.

- It was so wonderful.
- Well, thank you.

As Madison said,

"Ambition must be made
to counteract ambition."

And reason was our best bet.

That insight forms the core
of what made this country

and what makes this
country, when we get it right,

truly great.

Shh. I like this, shh.

Hey, how are y'all?

- Hey, how are you?
- Jon Meacham, how are you?

- Hey, I'm Keith.
- Keith, glad to see you.

Do we need a mic,
or are we okay?

We're gonna mic you up.

So, just be careful
when you get up.

I have this microphone up top.


We're at a moment in our history

where we react to things
because of where we stand,

not because of what they are.

And the issue becomes
that the partisan reactions,

the passionate
reactions to incoming data

are so strong,
they're tsunami-like,

that it's almost impossible
for people to sort out

in a reasonable way,
in a data-driven way,

what to make of a given report.

One of the most significant
shifts we've lived through

is the move from a
literate, reading print culture,

which was the world
of Jefferson and Lincoln,

to radio, which was
FDR and Churchill,

to television, which was
Kennedy and Reagan,

and now digital and
cable, which is Trump.

It is increasing the likelihood

that people will not
engage with texts,

they will simply
engage emotionally.

And that creates a
political marketplace

that is ever farther from reason
and ever closer to passion,

which is exactly what the
Founders were worried about.

We can learn a lot by
studying the McCarthy era.

I think the fall of McCarthy

is an incredibly
important case study

in how reason can ultimately
triumph over passion.

Socialism has spread the
shadow of human regimentation

over most of the
nations of the earth,

and the shadow is encroaching
upon our own liberty.

In many ways, the
conservative movement

that has a connection
with conspiracy theories

begins in the aftermath
of the second World War.

The Communist fifth
columnists among us

are working for
world dictatorship.

There was anxiety about the way,

uh, FDR had handled Yalta.

Eisenhower was seen
as a dedicated agent

of the Communist conspiracy.

George Marshall,
the army chief of staff

during World War II, was
seen as a Communist agent.

Thousands of good, loyal
Americans have been duped

into actually aiding
the Communists.

There was this ferment
which plays in, yet again,

to this recurring theme
that there is some force,

foreigners, powerful
people, rich people,

who are trying to
undo the America

that is most familiar
and most beloved

to those who are listening
to the conspiracy theories.

Joseph R. McCarthy,

the junior senator
from Wisconsin.

He was obscure in the halls

where senators
advise and consent

until February the 9th, 1950.

Even if there were
only one Communist

in the State Department,
that would still be

one Communist too many.

Joe McCarthy gives a speech

saying he has the names

of 205 Communists in
the Department of State.

That discovery propelled
him into the headlines.

There is no remote
possibility of this war

which we're in today
ending except by victory

or by death for
this civilization.

He then starts this
campaign executed

in the Senate through
different committees,

but mainly in the newspapers.

McCarthy understood
that headlines

spoke louder than details.

He would have loved Twitter.

He is the master of making
the sensational charge,

often with very
little basis to it,

and the press amplifies it.

And here is our guest,
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

If you had to do
this all over again,

would you have changed
any of your tactics?

I'm not, uh, equipped to use

type of tactics.

Uh, we may have to
use lumberjack tactics,

bare-knuckle tactics. If
those are the only kind

of tactics the
Communists understand,

then those are the
tactics we'll use.

There's an enormous
number of lives

that were wrecked
because of these charges.

Senator McCarthy's
charges and insinuations

are not only false,
but utterly irresponsible

and, under the circumstances,
reveal a shocking disregard

for the interests
of our country.

McCarthy, his own
lawyer Roy Cohn said,

was an opportunist.

He wasn't really
interested in the end

of fighting Communism.

He was interested in the
means of fighting Communism,

because the means
made him more popular,

made him more powerful.

McCarthy's political base

was a source of fear,

particularly for other
Republican senators.

McCarthy gave the impression

that he was leading
this vast army.

His other fellow
senators weren't sure

how big that army
was, but if it was big,

they sure as hell didn't
wanna run afoul of it.

Acclaimed as an
anti-Communist hero

and denounced as a
threat to civil liberties

for his conduct of
Senate investigations,

Joseph R. McCarthy
became the most controversial

political figure of the period.

There was a huge
amount of debate

during the McCarthy era

about whether a
journalistic institution

should simply
report what was said

without assessing its validity.

It's the same kind of
debate that goes on today.

Just because someone in
power says something crazy,

do you have to
report what that is?

If you report it, do
you say it's crazy?

Or does that somehow violate
the neutrality of the news?

So, in the midst of
the McCarthy scare,

Palmer Hoyt, who was
the editor and publisher

of the Denver Post,
issued a statement saying,

"We are no longer
simply going to report

what Joe McCarthy says,
unless we can confirm it."

Hoyt's view was
widely discussed,

huge debates in
newsrooms about what to do.

Tonight's See It Now
devotes its entire half hour

to a report on Senator
Joseph R. McCarthy,

told mainly in his own
words and pictures.

Did the Civil Liberties Union
supply you with an attorney?

They did supply an attorney.

Edward R. Murrow's
program would say,

"The senator has said this,
but he has no evidence."

Do you know the Civil
Liberties Union has been listed

as a front for and doing the
work of the Communist Party?

The Attorney General's list
does not and has never listed

the ACLU as subversive,

nor does the FBI or any other
federal government agency.

I think when Palmer Hoyt,

when Edward R. Murrow said,

"This is what we
think the truth is,"

they were living up
to the best tradition

of those better angels.

The line between
investigating and persecuting

is a very fine one.

And the junior
senator from Wisconsin

has stepped over it repeatedly.

This is no time for
men who oppose

Senator McCarthy's
message to keep silent,

or for those who approve.

We can deny our
heritage and our history,

but we cannot escape
responsibility for the result.

If you're a journalist today

trying to figure out what to
do about a demagogic figure

who makes
outlandish statements...

studying the McCarthy
era is instructive.

In Washington, a Senate
committee recommends

censure for Joseph McCarthy.

It took a long time, four years.

But ultimately,
McCarthy is censured.

McCarthy becomes the
fourth senator in history

to be disciplined.

McCarthy rose on
screaming headlines:

"Reds under the bed."

He fell when some reporters,
including Edward R. Murrow,

began assessing the
validity of those claims.

Purists versus pragmatists.

In politics, we tend to want

candidates to be principled,

coherent, uh, absolutely
devoted to a certain platform,

and they're gonna
do everything they can

to enact that platform, right?

The issue is, if you're
in a position of power,

if you are totally devoted
to that purist principle,

you have less of a chance
of getting through the day

and getting something done.

I would argue some of
the greatest moments

in American political
life have resulted

when people in power
have changed their minds.


Abraham Lincoln on emancipation.

Ronald Reagan
on the Soviet Union.

Richard Nixon on China.

The country was built by people

who were willing to
learn from their mistakes.

We looked the facts in the face,

and we thought, "You know what?

What we thought was
true and good yesterday

is not true and good today."

Thank you, all.

That's not a partisan point.

It's about the capacity to say,

"I want to live in a country
that looks and feels like this."

Get outta here.

Ooh, wait, look.

Hmm, Fanta Zero,
that sounds glamorous.


Ooh, cherry.

It's Friday, we're
going for cherry.

We are praying, praying ♪

- ♪ We are praying, praying ♪
- ♪ Ooh ooh ♪

♪ We are praying
In the light of ♪

♪ The light of God ♪

♪ We are praying, praying ♪

- ♪ We are praying, praying ♪
- ♪ Ooh ooh ♪

♪ We are praying
In the light of God ♪

So we have a formidable
group of people here.

You got a lot of members
of Congress here,

you've got a lot
of engaged souls

in the fight of this
moment going forward.

What's your best advice,
given what you've seen

and what you've done
and what you've fought for

and what you've hoped for?

What's your best advice
for folks in the arena today?

I think a part of the
direction is to go the way

of the Rosa Parks, Martin
Luther King movement.

Because love is powerful.

Love is not an
empty, uh, quiet force.

It's a force that we have not
yet begun to really explore.

And so,

that nonviolent movement
was rooted in that.

So I think that that's one of
the things that I would push,

so that we can be
pushed hard to recognize

that we are people on a journey,

and that that
journey does demand

a certain kind of behavior.

Anything doesn't go.

The hundred years from
the end of the Civil War

through the civil
rights movement

is a vivid case
study in the struggle

between our worst instincts
and our better angels.

In the civil rights
legislation of '64 and '65,

our better angels won...

in a ferocious struggle
with our worst instincts.

And if we want a model
for how to move ahead,

looking at those
years is instructive.

During the '60s, we felt
the stain of segregation

and racial discrimination.

And when you see
something that is not right,

not fair, not just, you
have to do something.

We cannot continue to accept

these conditions of oppression,

for this is not a struggle
for ourselves alone,

it is a struggle to save
the soul of America.

When I participated
in the movement,

I was 15.

It would not have
been successful

had it not been for
ordinary little nobodies

doing their part
to make it happen.

By 1963, the full
panoply of segregation

was under attack.

It begins to culminate
on the streets of Alabama.

The campaign was directed

against racial
discrimination in Birmingham,

the most totally segregated
big city in the south.

I had a made-up
mind that I could handle

whatever was coming,
and be nonviolent.

In May, thousands
of children marched

against segregation
in Birmingham.

The city is determined
to maintain order.

They're attacked by fire hoses,

by police dogs.

To see children
treated like this,

the whole nation
rose up in arms.

The events in Birmingham

have sent a chill
through most Americans.

What the movement
did is dramatize

the stakes between
good and evil.

I will be present to bar

the entrance of any Negro

who attempts to enroll at
the University of Alabama.

All of these incidents have
a slow, cascading effect

on the opinion of the country.

I have a dream today.

And honestly, the opinion
of President Kennedy.

I remember President
Kennedy saying to us

on one occasion,
"We now understand."

This nation was
founded on the principle

that all men are created equal,

and that the rights of
every man are diminished

when the rights of one
man are threatened.

Now the time has
come for this nation

to fulfill its promise.

Kennedy and Johnson propose

a far-reaching Civil Rights Act.

It was not going
particularly well.

It appears as though

something has happened
in the motorcade route.

Kennedy is shot to
death in Dealey Plaza.

It's official now, the
president is dead.

I do solemnly swear...

I do solemnly swear...

Johnson takes the oath
of office on Air Force One,

becomes president.

We have suffered a loss
that cannot be weighed.

I ask for your help...

and God's.

That night, Johnson
is lying in bed,

and he's listing off
things he wants to do:

foreign leaders that
need to be called,

funeral arrangements.

But in the midst of this,
he says he wants to pass

the administration's
civil rights bill

without changing a comma.

And it was kind of a
remarkable moment

because Johnson had a
presidential race coming up.

No more political
man ever drew breath

than Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Johnson had been a senator
from Texas, a segregated state.

A lot of debate about to
what extent he watered down

civil rights legislation
in the '50s, but he did.

He was in no way a
leading progressive.

And so, you wouldn't have
bet that Lyndon Johnson

was gonna try to finish
the work of Lincoln.

Everything about that moment
would have led him politically

to have made all
kinds of promises,

all kinds of rhetorical nods

to the civil rights legislation,

but not to pursue it.

There was something
in Johnson's soul

that led him to believe

that this was the
moment to strike.

Lyndon Johnson was
a strong, strong leader.

He made a commitment
to those of us

in the civil rights movement,

that he would pick up where
President Kennedy left off.

And he did.

Lyndon Johnson risked
just about everything

for civil rights.

As he later put it,

"What the hell is
the presidency for

if not to do the big things
that other men might not?"

Ladies and gentlemen,
we're going to pass

the civil rights bill
because it's morally right.

What Johnson then
did from '63 to '64

is he created a
remarkable coalition

of Republicans and Democrats

to pass a law that
would finally undo

what had been
the racist reaction

to the verdict of the Civil War.

I promise you here and now

that we are going to
pass a civil rights bill.

Lyndon Johnson was
one of the great persuaders

in American politics.

The "Johnson
treatment," it was called.

We will pass the
strongest civil rights bill

in American history.

The trade-offs, the deals cut

to get to a legislative solution

is the work of politics.

July 2nd, 1964, President
Lyndon B. Johnson

signed the civil
rights bill into law.

I urge every American

to join in this effort

to bring justice and
hope to all our people

and to bring peace to our land.

The Civil Rights Act
and the Voting Rights Act,

taken together in '64 and '65,

represent what concentrated
acts of citizenship can do

when they intersect
with the attention

and the skill of those in power.

Lyndon Johnson heeded
the work of Martin Luther King,

the work of Rosa Parks,
the work of John Lewis,

the work of innumerable people
whose names we will never know,

who stood up in the streets
and courthouses and schools

of the American South

and undid, as best he
could, American apartheid.

And if America wants
to do some big things

about education, about climate,
about economic inequality,

you can do a lot worse
than to look at 1964 and '65

and see how even
in a complicated,

ultimately fallen universe,
you can make progress.

8:05, so what time is it?

Oh, we got seven
minutes, this is perfect.

It's actually really
useful in speeches.

It's my godfather's. Herbert
Stephenson Wentz. HSW.

All right.

All right, let's go dazzle
'em. Let's go save America.

It may take a little
more than this.

There is seemingly
no US institution,

big or small, that is
off-limits for Trump.

The president of the
United States is lying to us.

They referred to journalists
as the enemy of the people.

I do think there
are certain norms,

there are certain conventions,

and those are under
fundamental assault at the moment.

The president's
attacks on the FBI...

The president
charging the department

as part of a
so-called "deep state."

So we can't count on
the American president

to play the role that many of
us had become accustomed

to that president playing.

So I wanna talk about
three characteristics

that in my mind are great
leadership characteristics

but are as
important for citizens.

One is curiosity.

We have to listen
to each other more.

Ninety-nine times
out of a hundred,

if you're on that
side of the aisle

and I'm on this
side of the aisle,

I'm gonna disagree with you.

But here's the difference.

If you get up and
I listen and I think,

"Huh, maybe you have a point,"

I would submit that
America at her best

happens when you say,
"Huh, maybe you have a point."

The second is humility.

Humility in the sense of
being able to acknowledge

a mistake and learn from it.

Most of us wouldn't
be here if John Kennedy

had not been able to
admit that he'd screwed up

the Bay of Pigs
in April of 1961.

There are from this
sobering episode

useful lessons
for us all to learn.

After the disaster in Cuba,

Kennedy reaches out to
the one person on Earth

before whom he
least wished to appear

to be in need of tutelage,
and that was Eisenhower.

Eisenhower walked him
through what had happened,

he realized that Kennedy
had never held a meeting

with all the stakeholders,

so he couldn't weigh
their arguments.

He said, "You have to do that."

Cut to October 1962.

A series of
offensive missile sites

is now in preparation
on the island of Cuba.

The purpose of these
bases can be none other

than to provide a
nuclear strike capability

against the western hemisphere.

Kennedy remembered what
Eisenhower had told him,

and he held what became

the world's longest
committee meeting.

It lasted 13 days.

We came through that crisis,

not least because Jack
Kennedy had the power to admit

he had screwed up
and needed to learn.

And if we can't find a way

to admit that we
changed our mind,

we're not gonna make progress.

The third characteristic
is empathy.

We have to be
able to see the world

through other people's eyes.

Cut to November 1989.

Good evening. Live
from the Berlin Wall

on the most historic
night in this wall's history.

The most vivid symbol
of the deadliest standoff

in human history,
the Berlin Wall, falls.

To Acknowledge the
tremendous significance

of the symbolic destruction
of the Berlin Wall,

I urge President Bush
to travel to West Berlin.

Democrats, everybody's
pounding on Bush

to go to Berlin and
declare a great victory.

It clearly is a good development

in terms of human rights.

Bush won't go.

Lesley Stahl is pounding on him.

You don't seem elated,

and I'm wondering
if you're thinking...

I'm elated. I'm just not
an emotional kinda guy.

He was thinking about
Mikhail Gorbachev,

who had a hardcore right wing

that did not wanna see
Soviet greatness go away,

and if you doubt me, I refer you

to a young KGB officer
named Vladimir Putin,

who was part of that right wing.

Bush knew that if he showed up,

it was gonna make
Gorbachev's life harder.

And so, he took the hit.

His low-key reaction of
yesterday was another case

of what critics have
called timid leadership.

Christmas Day, 1991, the
Soviet Union disappears

without a shot being fired.

He was empathetic enough to know

that our national
interest was being served

by his seeing the world
through Gorbachev's eyes.

We have to create a climate
that gives enough permission

for people who are in office

to actually make that
compromise or two.

I mean, that's on us.

Thank you.

Jon has a desire to see
what is good in America

and to let people know it,

while being realistic about
what's not so good in America.

Absolutely spectacular.

- Thank you.
- It was special.

- I expected nothing less from you.
- Oh, thank you.

But it was a special evening.

- Thank you, sir.
- Thank you.

But he has, above all
things, a sense of redemption.

That even if we're
stuck in a dark place,

there is a way out,
and that history shows

we've done this again
and again and again.

I think there's a
real pride in America

and a belief in America.

Like, I think Jon
really, really believes

that the American experiment
is flawed but ultimately

better than anything else
we've seen anywhere else.

It gives him a sense
of duty to go out and...

and preach what
it is he believes in.

The work of citizenship

at this particular moment,

if you believe that
we need a change

in the presidency
of the United States,

the work becomes convincing
the right number of people

in the right number of
states that you're right,

and they need to agree with you.

And so, the work of
citizenship now is, in fact,

the work of democracy
in its purest sense.

I think our role as citizens is
to become civically engaged.

If the Japanese Americans
have anything to say

to the public about this,

is don't take your
liberties for granted.

They can be taken away from you.

We are going to build a wall!

What's at stake

in this political and
cultural moment

is the nature of the
democratic republic.

Nazis out! Immigrants in!

Our reality is farther away

from the American ideal today

than it was three
or four years ago.

People think the
other side is evil

and must be stopped.

The internment
that we went through

is history now, 75 years old,

but I feel like it
is current news.

These facilities have
now been repurposed

as detention
centers for families.

What's happening on
our southern borders

is the same kind
of irrationality.

Lock her up! Lock her up!

Lock her up! Lock her up!

She was warned.

She was given an explanation.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

One of the things that
the women's movement

fought for in that
early incarnation

was the idea that women
should just be able to

stand up and speak of politics.

We cannot, we
will not, be silenced.

And that's something
we're still fighting for today.

What I see going on today

is so reminiscent of
what I saw in the '60s.

There's so many forces today

that are preaching
hate and division.

We need leadership now
to lift us, to inspire us...

to be guided by better angels.

We've always grown stronger

the more widely
we've opened our arms,

the more generously
we've interpreted

what Thomas Jefferson
meant when he said

that all men were created equal.

If we don't make that case,
if we don't tell that story,

then we're gonna be
perpetually in two armed camps

staring at each other,

and neither side wants to blink.

The question at this moment is:

"Will we continue to
pursue a more perfect union,

or will we settle into

a constant state
of tribal warfare

in a ferocious struggle
with our worst instincts?"

How do we get to 51 percent?

How do we do the right
thing just enough of the time?

Dark forces are perennial.

The good news

is that the forces of light
can also be perennial.

And let's just see how
we can get that side to win

a little bit more often.