Deirdre St. John
Presidential historian Jon Meacham, the author of best-selling biographies of Andrew Jackson and George H.W. Bush, marked his much-anticipated turn as a distinguished guest lecturer at William Paterson University on Friday by stressing the importance of empathy, patience and humility as trademarks of a great president.
“First, great presidents have resolved moments of crisis and led us to stronger places when they actually have the quality of human empathy,” Meacham told more than 500 people at the Shea Center for Performing Arts.
“The second is proportion and patience and the last is humility … being able to learn from one’s mistakes.”
Speaking at William Paterson four days before the presidential election, Meacham said that Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, was more prepared and qualified than her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, who won the presidency in Tuesday’s election.
“We have one of the most conditionally prepared presidential nominees in history, Hillary Clinton, and the most unconditionally prepared major party nominee in American history. He embraces that,” Meacham said.
Meacham, a contributing editor at Time magazine and former managing editor of Newsweek, appeared as part of the university’s distinguished lecturer series, which has brought dozens of famous names from politics and the arts – including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, composer Stephen Sondheim, and directors Oliver Stone and Spike Lee – to the Wayne campus.
Meacham’s most recent book, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” came out last year. The New York Times called it “a deeply
empathetic, often moving book about the former president and what Bush calls the
L-word, his legacy.”
While Meacham clearly favored Clinton in the election, Meacham warned his audience not to overlook Trump’s supporters.
“Forty to forty-three percent of Americans are willing to vote for the most unconditionally prepared nominee,” Meacham said.
“If we are dismissive about the cares and concerns and motivations of those voters, then we are failing.”
Meacham also referenced Clinton’s controversial statement in September about Trump supporters. Speaking at a fundraiser, Clinton told the audience, “To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”
Meacham said that Clinton’s categorization of such a large segment of the population as deplorable would haunt her presidency.
Meacham also said that inadequate household income in the United States may have contributed to Trump’s political rise.
“Here’s the match: $135,000,” Meacham said. “Household income in the United States is $57,500.In that missing $70,000 is in fact the match that fell on that gasoline and led to Donald Trump’s nomination.”
Meacham’s appearance attracted people from across New Jersey.
“I immediately got myself a ticket because I admire him,” said Abby Sacmary from Waldwick, about 25 minutes northeast of campus. “I am anxious to hear what he has to say about this insane world we find ourselves in.”
Many attendees knew Meacham from his television appearances.
“I watch Jon Meacham all the time on ‘Morning Joe’ and MSNBC,” said Carmen Musse of Mahwah, a half hour north of campus. “Jon clearly has a different perspective on politics and what the qualities of a good president should be and his jokes are funny too.”
Carlos Rodriguez of Hackensack, a half hour east of campus, said that his interest in American history drove him to come listen to Meacham.
“I was a history major at St. Peter’s University [in Jersey City] and I’ve been following the presidential candidates forever,” Rodriguez said. “I really wanted to hear what Meacham had to say about them.”
Although the audience skewed toward older attendees, including faculty members and their companions, WPU students were also in attendance.
“I am constantly seeing him talk about the presidential election,” said senior Karlee Kozik, a media studies major. “I was just looking forward to actually hearing him and seeing him in person, which we got to do today.”
Another senior, Victoria Saavedra, a public relations major, said, “We got our picture taken with him and he has a lot of good insight about the election.”
Meacham ended his lecture on a humorous note.
“Where you have someone so unconventional is probably unlikely to be repeated anytime soon,” he said. “Having said that, when Kanye West is the nominee I’ll come back and talk about it.”