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Distinguished Presidential Historian, Author Visits RC

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Written by Bradley Bommarito

On Thursday, March 28, writer and journalist Jon Meacham visited Roanoke College as a guest speaker in the Henry H. Fowler Lecture Series. His lecture, titled “Leadership and Character: Do We Need to be Good to be Great?,” explored the role of virtue in civic life and themes relating to contemporary politics. Speaking to a crowd of community members, faculty, and students in Bast Gymnasium, Meacham pieced together the factors that led to the current partisan stage while sharing humorous anecdotes and intriguing details along the way.

Meacham thinks that two things need to happen before we can progress beyond the current stage of partisan deadlock and malicious rhetoric: we must understand that we are all in this mess together, and we must take accountability for our own actions (or inaction) in ending up amidst this period of dysfunction.

Meacham talked about some factors behind today’s heightened social and political tensions. He pointed out that while the traditional staples of the American Dream (home ownership, owning two cars, and sending one’s children to college) costs at least $120,000 per year, average household income for two-earner homes hovers around $60,000.

“We are on a journey toward a more perfect union, and the only way is that it becomes more perfect is when we decide that the American promise is for all and not for some,” said Meacham.

Advocating for a collaborative, participative approach to democracy, Meacham referenced his book “The Soul of America” by emphasizing that real progress will only occur if our better angels win at least half of the time.

“We do better when we are curious, when we are involved in conversations about the forces that are shaping the world,” said Meacham.