Presidential historian Jon Meacham, whose book gave Joe Biden’s campaign its ‘soul of the nation’ theme, declared the country ‘under assault’ Thursday cast a potential Biden victory into the sweep of social movements, saying it might just ‘save our country.’
Meacham, who delivered the eulogy at George H.W. Bush’s funeral after writing a book about him, endorsed the former Vice President and Thursday night’s Democratic convention, in a speech where he warned about dark strains in America’s past.
‘Our democracy is under assault from an incumbent more interested in himself than he is in all of us,’ said Meacham, casting aside the distance he ordinarily keeps from his subjects.
‘Extremism, nativism, isolationism and a lack of economic opportunity for working people are all preventing us from realizing our nation’s promise,’ Meacham said, ‘and so we must decide whether we will continue to be prisoners of the darkest of American forces or will we free ourselves to write a brighter better nobler story
The Tennessee-based author spoke from his office, backed by images of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a campaign poster from the Lyndon Johnson Hubert Humphrey ticket, putting the 2020 election in the context of social change movements.
He said the nation must decide ‘whether we will continue to be prisoners of the darkest of American forces.’
‘Or, will we free ourselves to write a brighter, nobler story?’ he asked.
”It’s now write the next chapter of the American story – one of hope of love a justice. If we do so, we might just save our country. And our souls,’ he said.
Meacham spoke of key moments on the march toward justice, from Seneca Falls to Selma, Alabama and Stonewall.
But the nation has also contended with ‘slavery, segregation and systemic discrimination,’ he noted.
‘Our story has soared when we have built bridges, not walls,’ he said, in a dig at Trump that he made while a video showed an image of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
He said the nation succeeds when it is ‘informed by reason and candor not by ego and lies.’
Meacham, a former journalist and prolific author, compared President Trump to reactionaries from the past and those who stood in the way of social reforms or otherwise appealed to demagoguery or made overtly racist appeals.
His remarks come a day after former President Barack Obama called Trump a threat to democracy, warning: ”This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win.’
Previewing his remarks to Axios, Meacham said: ‘It’s not a partisan issue. Presidents from Truman to Reagan to Bush 41 [George H.W. Bush] prevailed in the Cold War, which was about freedom versus tyranny. And at home, do you want to be Bull Connor, or John Lewis? Joe McCarthy, or Margaret Chase Smith? Do you want to tear down, or do you want to build?’ he said.
He was referencing the infamous Sheriff Bull Connor, who relied on violent use of police and dogs as head of security in Birmingham, Alabama to put down civil rights protests, the late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who marched at Selma; Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy, who used his perch to stoke the red scare; and Smith, the longest serving female senator who confronted McCarthy.
Biden took one of his signature campaign themes, the fight for ‘the soul of America,’ from Meacham’s book.
He brought the prolific author (he also has taught history and political science but is not a Ph.D), to lend some historical scope and perspective to his convention, which is also pushing such themes as diversity and inclusion and showcasing the first black female running mate in Sen. Kamala Harris.
Meacham also has written a book on Lewis, a stalwart of the Democratic Party who died this year.
His Thursday speech came a day after former President Barack Obama delivered a blistering speech where he warned President Trump was a threat to democracy itself.