-Mark Drury, Senior Director
Pulitzer Prize winning author and Middle Tennessee resident Jon Meacham has become the go-to speaker for those seeking to stage an event which will engage an audience. That’s likely because of his wit and the fact that he rarely disappoints from the podium. His January 18 talk at Nashville’s University School was a great example. His discussion of the presidency was timely, largely because the current occupant of the White House has engendered a national discussion on what America seeks in a president.
Meacham, who admitted he spent 90 minutes interviewing then-candidate Trump in May 2017 for Time magazine came away from the experience with his own thoughts about the qualities of America’s most successful presidents:
Curiosity – Meacham believes American presidents must be intellectually curious, not just about the lives of the American people, but about allies and enemies around the world. To fail to seek greater understanding is to invite failure, he believes.
A Sense of History – The greatest American presidents have understood when America is changing and changed with it. “Lincoln,” he says, “began as a segregationist. Just read his first inaugural address. But, through the bloodshed of the Civil War he began to understand that the institution of slavery was the single greatest impediment to the Union facing his country.”
Humility – Meacham told the story of John F. Kennedy in the wake of the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. He sought out the advice of his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, on his mistakes. Eisenhower told Kennedy not to seek the views of his advisors in isolation, but to get them together in the same room to argue their points. He urged Kennedy to admit his mistakes and Meacham believes the lessons Kennedy learned led to the successful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Empathy – Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, George H.W. Bush was urged by his advisors to go to Berlin and to take a “victory lap,” speaking about the pre-eminence of democracy over communism. But, Bush refused, believing such a move would weaken the tottering government of Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. “Bush didn’t tell me that story, Gorbachev did,” Meacham said. Bush understood the challenges facing his adversary and did what was in Russia’s best interest, and by extension, America’s.