PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN TOUTS VIRTUES OF NATION'S BEST LEADERS
Presidential historian and Pulitzer-Prize winning author Jon Meachamspoke on The Art of Leadership: Lessons From the American Presidency to a packed house during a LeMieux Center for Public Policy lecture Thursday at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
As Meacham addressed students, faculty, alumni and special guests gathered inside the 400-seat DeSantis Family Chapel, the skilled orator and storyteller adeptly shared anecdotes and insights gleaned from years of research and writings about U.S. presidents.
He spoke of key moments in American history and opined about the challenges of modern day politics, often punctuating his speech with humorous real-life incidents and historical tales to the delight of the audience.
“The story of the country has been marked by an ever greater appreciation of the implications of a sentence written in Philadelphia by Thomas Jefferson in the third week of June 1776,” Meacham noted.
That sentence written in the Declaration of Independence stated that all men were created equal and were endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“It defines us then and it defines us now,” said Meacham, noting Jefferson's key words have since inspired and shaped the beliefs and actions of multitudes of people from all around the world.
He also mused about the interconnectivity of the American Republic and its people, stressing that a republic is only as good as the sum of its parts. “Without the virtue of the people there is no national virtue,” he said.
Meacham is widely known for his depth of knowledge about politics, religion and current affairs – an expertise he’s displayed during appearances on national television shows Morning Joe, Meet The Press and The Colbert Report, among others. The prolific writer’s repertoire of published books includes “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” and “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.” His latest, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” is slated for publication on May 7.
In examining lessons from the American presidency, Meacham singled out some key characteristics that he believed have been evinced by America’s best leaders and embodied during the nation’s best moments as a people.
Those characteristics or virtues are curiosity, candor, humility and empathy, he said.
“With those characteristics, with those virtues we can create eras that we envy more than the ones… we cringe at,” Meacham noted. “We want presidents who have these characteristics, but we [as a people] need them too.”
He contended that curiosity has been instrumental in America’s formation as a powerful and great nation. “Our greatest growth, our greatest hours have come when the people and the president were intellectually curious about the great complexities of the time.”
In reflecting on present-day American politics, Meacham said: “We are in unprecedented times. The incumbent is the most unconventional person to ever hold the office… We have not had a president like this.”
For certain, the nomination, election and inauguration of Donald Trump as president has been history making on many levels.
“This is a great experiment. It is not over [and] we do not know how it is going to turn out,” Meacham said.
Following his speech, Meacham sat down with former Sen. George LeMieux in a brief question-and-answer session before signing books for several attendees.
The LeMieux Center for Public Policy at PBA was established in 2012 to provide opportunities for students to engage with state and national officials, journalists, authors, academics and other notable thought leaders on issues important to Florida, the nation and the world.