Jon Meacham holds many titles. In addition to being a Presidential historian, he is also a Pulitzer Prize-winner, a TIME contributor and a respected public intellectual.
On March 28, approximately 850 people gathered inside the C. Homer Bast Center on the campus of Roanoke College to hear Meacham shed some light on the question ‘Do we need to be good to be great?’ Sponsored by the Henry H. Fowler lecture series, Meacham, also a Morning Joe frequent guest on MSNBC, spoke on the importance of analyzing events of the American past and their meaning in the present. His current bestseller, The Soul of America, looks back critically at times in U.S. history when hope overcame division and fear.
“If we don’t have an honest conversation about the past, how on earth can we make an informed judgment about the present?” Meacham said. “The reason that I talk about history this way is because it opens the aperture for both conservatives and liberals to have a conversation. Conservatives love history. Liberals love data and science. The one thing in political life we have that checks both of those boxes is the American past.”
John Peterson, a Roanoke County native who attended the event, was impressed with Meacham’s take on President George H.W. Bush.
Meacham credited the 41st President as the exemplar of goodness and greatness through his character. He followed that up by saying, “The character of [George H.W. Bush] shaped all of our [fates]. Our job is to make sure that our characters shape that fate for the good, as well.” Meacham, who knew the former President both personally and professionally, gave the eulogy at his funeral.
Regarding our responsibility to “shape fate for the good,” Meacham warned that we must be careful with our use of social media and cell phones, and that “just because you have the means to express an opinion quickly does not mean that you have an opinion worth expressing quickly.”
Thursday, March 28, was the second time that Meacham spoke at Roanoke College.