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Kean University

Presidential Historian Jon Meacham Offers Perspective and Hope

Author Jon Meacham opens the 2018-2019 Distinguished Lecture Series

Author Jon Meacham opened the 2018-2019 Distinguished Lecture Series

Taking a long view of the American political climate, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham reminded an audience at Kean University that the country has come through difficult times before and will again.

“This is what the country was made for — a couple of steps forward and a couple of steps back. There is no such thing as a perfect union. It is simply a more perfect one,” Meacham said. “I think the Constitution was written for this moment. I think it was written for a demagogic moment when everything seemed doomed.”

Meacham, the first speaker in the Kean University 2018-2019 Distinguished Lecture Series, explored the topic, American Politics and Current Events, in a free lecture on October 24 before nearly 500 people at North Avenue Academic Building auditorium. He offered three characteristics that all Americans, leaders and average citizens alike, must adopt to move the country forward in a positive way — curiosity, humility and empathy.

“We are inextricably linked. If we think that somehow or another we can isolate and become more tribal and that won’t bring the entire enterprise down, we are kidding ourselves,” he said. “If one tribe wins, we enter, as Churchill put it, ‘a prolonged dark age.’”

He alluded several times to the recent spate of attempted mail bombings, calling them, “arguably the most sustained attempted attack on the broad United States government since the Lincoln conspiracy.”

In introducing Meacham, Kean President Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., noted that the Kean Distinguished Lecture Series was created last year as a forum for discussing important issues of our times. 

“The more informed you are, the better you can participate in the democracy, and the better you can take action when it is needed,” Farahi said. “History informs you about the present. It doesn’t mean it can predict the future, but it might give you some clues.”

Before his lecture, Meacham met with more than two dozen Kean students in a private Q&A session. He responded to questions about extremist views in politics; how history will judge President Trump; whether Confederate statues should be taken down; and the role of history in governance.

“They were great questions,” he said. “The students seemed sophisticated about what’s going on. I thought it was a productive and encouraging session.”

Juliana Reents, a senior history major from Middlesex, was one of the students in attendance.

“He has a great perspective of past presidents and connected them to the current president in a very objective way,” she said. “It was very good and very informative.”

After the lecture, Meacham signed copies of his book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, at Ursino Steakhouse & Tavern, adjacent to Kean’s STEM Building.

The next Distinguished Lecture will be held Wednesday, December 5 at 4:30 p.m. in Kean’s STEM Building auditorium. Judy A. Smith, whose career in high-level crisis management inspired the hit TV show Scandal, will speak about crisis management and her work in communication, media and politics. To register for the free event, visit