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tv   Historians Walter Isaacson Jon Meacham John Barry and David Rubenstein  CSPAN  April 13, 2022 8:00am-8:52am EDT

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you agree with our politics or not. >> at to:45 p.m. eastern the white house historical association hosts a conference on the american presidency focusing on topics such as history and civic engagement, digital history, first the ladies, impact and influence and interpreting slavery and race in historic sites. we have a very modest subt america. >> so we have a very modest subject, america, and with some people that know a lot about it, so why don't we just start on my far right with the cochair or the chair of the new orleans book festival. your cochair. >> always be a cochair, not the chair. >> so walter, inn observation of all the people you've written about and all the other people
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you've read about over the years, , who would you say is te greatest american we've ever had? >> look, i mean -- >> cites david. >> present company excluded. it changes depending on thery moment of history but at this moment benjamin franklin is a person we need most, the person who knew most how to unify differents viewpoints, who could see across different disciplines to see the pattern patto understood the basiclu underlyig values of what it meant to be an american, who helped bring the colonies together but also understood how to do aip realisc balance of power diplomacy which we're we are doing very badly i think with the ukraine situation where we're trying -- where not trying to great create a jew poll balance with china and others. >> you have written books onks steve jobs it is reported in the press you're working on one on elon musk. you know bill gates and wrote a book about albert einstein. which of those four are smarter?
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>> albert einstein. >> really? no doubt about it. >> are you goingnt to write abot poor people? >> which of those people has the smallest ego? >> my favorite on the ego was henry kissinger because he didn't have any humility, but he has a line that ben franklin used which is, that you don't truly need humility if you just need the pretense of humility. you have to learn to fake it. and kissinger at one point was looking at an audience like this and he said i've never seen such a distinguished sea of faces since i last dined at a hall of mirrors in verse five. alone. >> can i jump in? to live what about what he said after your book came out some years later. >> well, many things. >> the one that is repeatable. >> one of them was, somebody
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asked him how we liked the book and he said i like the title. [laughing] >> what about afterwards about 30 years later? w >> what happened was, he didn't speak to me for couple years after that book, a but then i ws at "time" magazine and we decided to do an anniversary party inviting everybody would been on the cover of time. so he was invited, i did know if he would come because he wasn't speaking to me but the phone rings and my system says it's henry kissinger on the line for you.y pick up the phone and he says well, walter. my first reaction is thisge is either henry kissinger or its great in cardiff who does a great -- he will dine out on it forever if i same thing. you said walter, even the 30 war had to end at some point. i will come to your party. >> but his wife didn't agree with him? >> he said but you know, nancy, she's partial to the hundred years war. we may have to work on her. >> so john, who would you say is
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the greatest american? >> oh, lord, the greatest american president is w almost certainly lincoln with i think a close second of fdr, because both confronted existential crises and preserve the possibilities w of democracy tht we have now once again imperiled as we speak. you know, the greatest american i've known is john robert lewis, born in pike county alabama, the great-grandson of enslave man, son of a sharecropper who, folks like me like to say we book if you're parked in the 19 century who said the ark of a more universe is long but it bends toward justice. but it doesn't bend towards justice if there aren't people insisting that its work. and john onm that bridge on the freedom rides in so many different places, prison which
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doctor called destination doom, after the freedom rides, he insisted that what we said in the declaration had to be made real. >> so john, you've obvious written an important book on jefferson. can you lend to people why it is that jefferson wrote a sentence that some would say is the most famous sentence in english language, we hold these truths to be self-evident, , that all n are created equal, when he had slaves. how could he say on a crater equal when it although slaves, hundreds of them. what was he thinking of what did he really mean? >> he could write it because he was a man. he was a a human being and he ws fallen, frail and fallible like all of us. lincoln said that the declaration was intended to create a maximum, and to embed in a revolutionary document a standard to which we could aspire. jeffersonje was unable to make s
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intellectual convictions triumph over his personal convenience, and i don't mean having about her or something, but i mean his entire work, his entire order. his first memory wasf of being put on a horse on a pillow by an enslaved person. that's the first thing he remembered. and so his entire universe was shaped by this. and nobody was more eloquent about it. jefferson spoke in needlepoint pillow terms, right? he's like isaacson that way. and not since walter isaacson dined alone has a been an event like the new orleans book festival. [laughing] kathy just threw up. understoode tragedy of history because he understood the tragedy of human beings.
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and so there was this gap between the actual and the real and we're still trying to close it. can you explain to people he had an affair apparently with a slave sally hemings. what was the unique attraction of sally hemings because of the familiar background how to why did he fall in love with her in your view? well, there are two things i think just say quickly. i'm not sure affairs the right word and there's no way of knowing about love in this it was the longest relationship he had in his life with a woman including his mother including his wife and i think a key factor here. is that sally hemings was thomas jefferson's wife's half sister. now only in louisiana is that totally explicable. so that's good. i'm from tennessee. so we thank you all gives us something to you know. so i think there was we don't know if there was a physical
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resemblance, but she was his wife's sister. what was the age of consent in virginia those days twelve twelve. let me real quick because this is been a theme annette. gordon. reed was at the book. that's right who wrote hemmings jefferson and hemmings, which is a much better book than mine, but but it's very interesting how she said wrestling with this question is wrestling with what america has to wrestle with now so, you know, we've had multiple views of amani perry and had a glod so all have been addressing what i call the jefferson conundrum of american history. so john if one final question on this round you wrote a book about the winston churchill and roosevelt. so there's an infinite number of humorous stories that about winston churchill in the relationship with roosevelt and winston churchill had a great wit. what are one over two of your famous or favorite winston
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churchill stories are about as wit or about his relationship with roosevelt. well, there's the great moment where he's has deeply drunk which just means he was awake. he never a moment of the day did not pass where winston churchill didn't have some alcohol in his system. he had breakfast. he had a very weak johnny walker red and soda. and kept it going drank paul roche champagne. and brandy after dinner hated franklin roosevelt's cocktails, by the way, f is amazing. we are all speaking german because fdr would make these horrible wasp martinis of which you would think is redundant, which was three quarters vermouth one quarter, jen. and so churchill would pour them out in the plant outside the oval study in the central room on the second floor of the white house and the plant died. but the great story of course is on boxing day december 26 1941
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churchill is dictating his speech that day to the house of representatives is going to be a remarkable speech and he was in his bathtub and churchill wrote as he talked. he dictated everything. that's why his stuff all sounds like him and so he gets up out of the tub. he's still going. he's marching around in all his glory and there's a knock on the door and it's fdr and fdr's pushed in by arthur prettyman his ballet. and churchill of roosevelt sees the entirely naked winston churchill there and he says, oh, i'm sorry winston. i'll come back in churchill said, oh no mr. president as you can see, i have nothing to hide from you. so thatcher and reagan or bush and blair might not have been as charming but it's a good story. oh, can i give you mike the privilege of being moderate? i'd give you my favorite churchill story, which is churchill is in the house of commons and he goes to the men's
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room and as he's standing in front of the urinal the opposition leading party of the socialist party clement atley comes and stands next door. and so very quickly winston churchill walks away zips up and walks away and clement at least says, what's the matter? are you afraid of standing next to the leader of the opposition party? he said that's not that it's just that anytime you see something big you want to nationalize it? that's right, right. okay, so there's a little toxic masculinity as a theme here. okay, so john. your book on the so-called spanish flu wasn't really a spanish flu. why did they call it the spanish flu? because the rest of the world was at war or the rest of europe was at war and they had press controls and didn't want to say anything that was negative. so they didn't write about it. spain was not at war and a lot
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of people got sick in the first wave, which was not lethal, but very a lot more morbidity. and the president wrote about it, so it got the names spanish flu. now in this particular in the coronavirus episode, we've had tragedy we are told there were three things you should do for sure one is wash your hands. one is wear a mask and three socially distance were those things different than what they were told a hundred years ago or those are the same things. while they were pretty much the same things and actually you know, i think washington's turns out not to be particularly important. oh really, but not for some diseases. yeah, but for covid not particularly, it's actually more important for influenza now in this particular corona virus tragedy we've had we are told by our public officials all the time you do this do that. what was told to the american
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public at time of that virus? well again, because we were war initially nothing people were told quote. this is ordinary influenza by another name unquote that's coming from national public health leaders. there was essentially zero national leadership in most localities. they echoed that i remember in there's you know, an army base outside little rock where i quoted a physician they are saying we have thousands sick. there's nothing here, but death and destruction the little rock newspaper almost on the same day as saying spanish flu same old fever and chills trying to be totally dismissive of it. you know this time iran, we sort of have two belief systems. there's the majority of solid majority the american people who believe in the public health
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advice. we have a distinct and significant minority that believes something else in 1918. there was just chaos. it was a much more lethal disease. the most vulnerable population was actually children under the age of 10. and then young adults particularly in their 20s and 30s. so being told this is ordinary influenza by another name when people are dying sometimes in 24 hours. that's a spread chaos and and fear, which is something that we haven't really experienced in this with the exception of you know, the very early days when it was quite unknown as to what we were facing. so when the when you're what year did your book come out 2004 right when it came out 2004 i assume it didn't exactly go to number one of the best settlements. well, actually, you know, not number one, but number seven. okay, so, okay, so but you
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probably people were not that we want track. people that never look at the amazon rankings dominant bread. oh, i weren't calling up every hour on the hour saying what do you think? so when that when that we had our coronavirus a tragedy what all of a sudden that people think you were genius for having written this book and what is your next going to be on? well, we're in louisiana and i guess most of the people here many probably with another book that i had written called rising tide, and i thank you. okay, but i was actually working on a book on everything that had gone into making the louisiana coast a disaster and by everything. i've just finished a section about 120 pages on dams on the missouri river which retained 100 million tons of sediment anyway, but i put that aside to to write a book on covid and i
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you know. told my publisher. i was not going to race with anybody. to publish it's there a lot of books that are already out and frankly. they're almost all of them are very good books. i told my publisher they would be my research and assistance. so mine. i hope will come out in a few years and so all of you are started in as journalists time and newsweek and washington post. what's the appeal of writing books compared to being a journalist because with journalists you can write it every day and you get instant feedback with a book you you work on it for years. you don't know whether it's going to work or not. so walter, why did why did you get out of the journalist business card first? let me correct that just to say that i never i used to write a lot for the washington post magazine. i never worked for them. but for me you know in editor is in charge of when you write for a magazine or a newspaper. they're the boss if you have a fight.
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if you write a book, you're the boss. all right, if you have a fight that's one of the differences. okay. well, it's a lot like private equity. and evan thomas and we were at time magazine and it was in a previous century when the internet hadn't really come about and so you'd spend seven days, you know a time, but you only really walked two days thursday and friday when the magazine was closing and then they'd compress everything you did to one page and so evan and i said, let's write a book and the ability to carry a narrative and to tell a tale just very appeal. so when you were involved the time and you were the editor of it you picked the time person of the year. did you ever get complaints from people who thought they should get it, but they didn't get present company excluded. there's a lot a lot in the
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problem with time person of the year is that it was supposed to be the person who most influenced history. therefore a hitler could win it or something. ayatollah khomeini who did and at a certain point that became so controversial that for example when 9/11 have so i think it lost a priscilla peyton is here at whether she was a great editor time as well and we used to have these battles over how to do it. so let's talk about creativity a moment of major part of america's success. some people would say, yes our creativity our ability to reinvent ourselves and and have incredible inventions. you've studied people in written about people who are very creative inventors. why are you so interested in that area? and what is the key to being a very creative person? well, you know john and i am particularly learning a lot of smart people in our lives and that a certain point it dawns on us that smart people are a dime a dozen and they don't ever amount to much what really matters being imaginative creative thinking as steve jobs
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would say think different think out of the box and so i like looking at what is it that makes somebody creative and the basic ingredient you got to start with is just curiosity pure curiosity for its own sake if you look at ben franklin as a young runaway going across the ocean. he's lowering barrels to take the temperature because he's just curious about the gulf stream if you look at jennifer dowd in my latest subject she looks at why do bacteria have repeated sequences in their dna? so this and ben franklin end leonardo da vinci of the two people in history who were curious to try to know everything you could possibly know about every subject that was knowable. is it more fun and you're easier or harder to write about somebody's dead or somebody's alive good. i mean, somebody's been dead, especially. yeah after i did kiss and journal this i said, i'm going to do somebody who's been dead for 250 years. so that's why i went to franklin
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and after doing steve jobs and dealing with that it was like, okay 500 years and i went to leonardo, but you answer you go back and forth in john lewis was a gravy that's a glorious block, but that was sort of that mix because you knew he was dying. so john you've written about people were dead and people were alive what's easier oh dead he's mainly because of barbara bush. that's the key president. bush was always very sweet. but barbara who? i still got some scars by the way. jenna is here right now. oh, i bet john and the apple does not fall far from the tree. so so i was i started doing the book about george herbert walker bush. it took me 17 years and it was supposed to be posthumous, but the son of a -- wouldn't die and i'd mentioned that you go not gonna do it. the key to doing his voice is
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dana carvey once said is mr. rogers trying to be john wayne and i'm absolutely i'm trying to get this in the bloodstream more one of the best tweets of all time, which is like the best restaurant in a hospital i realized but somebody a couple months ago wrote that if mr. rogers and doris goodwin had a one-night stand i would have resulted. so i insist that that's a good thing doris is a little of tricky the thing about the interesting thing about versus alive is as you know, david was incredibly close to the bushes. president bush senior was not the most reflective guy verbally. thought deeply while that but he had a hard time, you know, english was not his strong suit, and he once said late in the 88 campaign, it's no exaggeration to say the undeciders could go one way or the other.
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thank you, mr. president for that but what it did do and i think walter's probably had this experience. john only writes about deadly natural disaster. so so i really i'm with david. i want to know what you're writing about next. it is a flood coming. demographer of the book of exodus john barry is i was able by spending time with him. i was then able to imagine if we go back. to the oval office to various moments and have a better sense of what it was actually like in that room because i knew what he was like, did he tell you in advance? he wanted you to give the eulogy at his funeral did you know that in advance? i didn't that we're not in that before the book, but some years. okay after the book before he died walter if you could interview or ask a question of any of the people you wrote about who were not alive
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leonardo einstein benjamin franklin. who would you want to most meet with and have dinner with and what question would you want to ask them? you know franklin's guy. you must want to hang around with he loved and vending thing. you'd want to show him off the new devices. what's the girls? yeah. well farmer's daughters jokes us type of things we shouldn't do now but to me leonardo's the great mystery just like the mona lisa where there's no sharp lines everything slightly schmado. it's called blurred. with him, it's always slightly blurry and i would just love to drill down with him on how he just loved every subject of matter. he thought of himself as an engineer in scientist not as an artist. now john if you could interview and how have dinner with anybody you wrote about who's not alive, but would you like to ask jefferson or winston churchill or roosevelt? what would you like to ask them?
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well, this raises interesting theological questions about dead or alive, but of all the nights i would most want to go back to and have access to all the players. it would be passover in the year 33 of the common era and the last supper the arrest the crucifixion. to what extent did the people in real time? as part of those historical events understand if at all their larger significance or was it just you know a quick seder that went bad? so that's that's the main thing that would be an easy interview. no. well, i would have to print it in red letters. but yeah, okay. so john, what is the most important joke that we have a state? yeah. what is the most important lesson we learned from covid? well the same one from 1918 which is to tell the truth. you know.
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recent study of 177 countries the ones that have done the best the ones where there was some trust but both in institutions and between individuals. i think that. you know trust is you know that. society ultimately is based on trust and when that begins to evaporate society begins to pray so there was someone in the book a very sober serious kindness not given to overstatement. dean of the university of michigan medical school said at the peak of the pandemic that if this rate of acceleration continues a few more weeks civilization could easily disappear from the face of the earth. and he was talking about the chaos that had developed. because of the fear because they people were being lied to they had no idea what the truth was. they just knew they were being lied to and it kind of forced
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them everybody. to rely on their own his or her or their own family. so there was a beginning of a disintegration almost but since you wrote about the virus the first virus we had and you're writing a book about this one. it presumably would have been not great if you got ill so, what did you do to make sure that you never got the virus. did you take extra precautions because you were an expert in this area. you want to make sure that nobody thought you weren't an expert. well, i don't think i did anything that a lot of people in this audience didn't do, you know, i actually continue to live my life. you know, i live in the quarter which was closed down, but i would i found a place where i could get coffee every morning my wife and i would walk there didn't wear a mask when i was outside. i never wore a mask when i was outside. i still wear a mask if i'm inside. i'm look at the local
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conditions, you know case counts and so hospitalization so forth to determine. what and went out like i'm planned to have dinner inside a restaurant tomorrow for the first time, you know, quite a while. i want to say something else about creativity that you know, because i've thought about this a lot myself. and creative people seem to have two aside from number one incredible to produce anything incredible persistence. they seem to have both the vertical and a horizontal vision a vertical to allow them to dry really deeply down into a subject but a horizontal vision so they see connections between things. that other people don't say i and you know, i think henry james said be one of those on whom nothing is lost. i think that's one of the keys
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to creativity and then ts eliot said talked about concentration without elimination. you know viewing the world that way i think those are important things. sean you've written a lot about religion in the united states. why do you think the appeal of religion has receded compared to what it was a hundred years ago in the united states if you think that and why is it receded less than it has in europe or it seems to be very much in recession. yeah. it's a great question. i think part of it is that religious institutions have proven to be as frail and subject to corruption and failure as secular institutions. i think that. if you look at the demography. you're much more likely if you're under say 35. to be what's called whether it's called the rise of the nuns not sound of music, but in o n e s i
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mean that you're not affiliated at all, but there's an interesting section of that which is called s&r. spiritual not religious and so my sense, is that the fundamental human impulse for meaning connection. to go to john's image both horizontally and vertically and the horizontal connection tends to lead to to a vertical questioning. is perennial religious faith as survived the church's worst moments. it survived darwin. it survived the scientific revolution and i think that it's use an overused phrase we are to kind of inflection point demographically. i'm an episcopalian. they're only six of us left.
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probably they're all here. yeah. yeah, so we have a quorum we could vote on something. but literally the demographic picture for the episcopal church, which is produced more american presidents than any other denomination for what it's worth. means that we might not exist as an operating enterprise in the next 50 years. i was at dinner last night with a lay deacon in the roman catholic church. columbus ohio who they have a hundred and forty parishes in franklin county, ohio and 60 priests right, and so there are huge institutional pressures. my own view and one of the reasons i wrote the john lewis book, which you were very kind about. is that i don't think it's useful to try to push religion out of the public square. i think that.
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needs to be managed and marshaled because it is innate is like trying to push economics out or geography or partisanship. are you written a lot about american american soul and so forth. why do you think it is that people say they're prepared to die for their country, but they're not prepared to die for their state their city their school. what is it about a country that makes people want to die for it. well, i think that. that's a hugely important. part of the american story because when thomas jefferson talked about my country he meant, virginia. and the shift from these united states to the united states is it's the most important loss. it's like wordle take those two off, right and really the united states wasn't really a feature a common feature in the vernacular until after the civil war. i think there's a know the
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difference between nationalism and patriotism the difference between devotion to union and devotion to ideals is very complicated. and i'll just say that the united states has always done best. when we have focused on to go back to where we started when we focused on making that sentence. that david calls the most important sentence ever originally rendered in english. i'm a little careful about that because it's like the texas gubernatorial candidate who was against teaching spanish in the public schools and said on the stump one day if english was good enough for our lord jesus christ. it's good enough for texas, but we'll trade but when w was governor, i told her that story went that's pretty funny --. so anyway, big beautiful friendship.
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all right, so walter this is called the new orleans book festival. why don't you call the new orleans magazine newspaper twitter festival? what is it about books that make you want to have your name behind it? why are you so interested in books? you know, i love institutions things that exist. longer than you're going to whether it be tulane university new orleans you give services and a book is an embodiment of that. it's something that gets put down and exists not just for us poor weekly news magazine former editors where we were told you only have to be right for a week. and so i think a book. it's interesting that everything's been decimated by the digital age. except books books are still selling. there's a need for some permanence as we hand wisdom down at a university you gather wisdom you create wisdom and in a book you put it down now, i
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would just add that for students. i might be here if you read a book it focuses your brain much more than reading a tweet and i think if you're really going to develop your brain and your ability to think which is the most important thing you can do as a student i think and as a person i think books help to focus the brain and make you go from the beginning to the end and actually get, you know, thought process and actually you get much more out of reading a book than almost any other kind of thing. you can read. that's an important point, which is that in the digital age we leap around it's like a web we hyperlink all over a book is a narrative. it starts at the beginning and it takes you by the hand through an argument through a tale. i mean the bible has the best lead sentence ever within the beginning comma but it is a narrative chronology that helps you shape ideas. and that's why it's a special product. so, i don't know if we have do we have time for questions or we have time for questions the audience. okay, so we have people going to
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walk around with mike's. is that what they're going to do? okay. or michael there who has a question. anybody have a question. raise your hand one here, and then there just jump up at the mic. hey kitty. there's a mic coming to you or let me before she asked. this is kitty boone who created aspen ideas festival. this is a shameless ripoff of it. thank you for coming coming and blessing us. okay. we'll work for you saturday. i heard that that's true. she did i did by mistake. we all work for walter. we always this is for john. they're two jobs you wrote john meacham. you wrote an incredible book, which i've given to many people which is the soul of america and the reason that i gave it to people is because for me you. illuminated hope that we've been through this before. but today you sort of alluded to we're in a pretty dark time, and
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i'm just curious if you still think we can make it. pass the abyss that that we seem to be in. yeah, i do and actually that book grew out of walter's alma mater. nancy. gibbs called me on the sunday that one of walter's successors much better. successful to ask me after charlottesville to write a piece about moments of extremism and and domestic political violence and then that ultimately became that book so i always grateful to nancy for that. look, this is a terrible time. but i've never you know in the five years four years since i wrote it. i've never had a black person. i've never had a woman. i've never had someone who's not kind of a boringly heterosexual white male southern episcopalian, which is me. say this is the worst time ever.
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because 50 years ago. george wallace won 13.5 percent to the popular vote carried five states 50 years ago a hundred years ago more than half. the audience was disenfranchised. before the 19th amendment so this notion that i sometimes think of it as the tyranny of the present. right, of course our problem seem consuming and overwhelming because they are our problems. and my argument is that if we think historically it's not a kind of i'm not trying to offer you literary zoloft here. but i do think proportion creates more room for hope. so it's not as though there was a once upon a time. suddenly the 2016 election happened and the world ended. the 2016 election represented
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the interesting victory of perennial and i would argue destructive but surely perennial forces in american life. and anybody who wants to say? this isn't who we are. doesn't know anything. because of course, it's who we are the point of the country is to try to not be that 51% of the time. and i think we're doing that right now actually. 93 united states senators like but 65 federal judges the supreme court of the united states, sam. alito may have saved the republic he and mike pence. there's a sentence you didn't think you'd hear. but what if the supreme court had taken one of those voter fraud cases and just kicked it back to the states. i would have created chaos. they would have blown through the inauguration. date and who knows what would have happened? but the rule of law actually
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worked it is threatened. we're gonna find out more and more about january 6th. we have have never had an american president. it never really occurred to the predecessors to say. well i lost so i'm just going to lie about it. that's different. that's new. and we have to confront that. but we live in a country that is really only about 55 years old i would argue that it's not 1619 that we should pay a lot of attention. i mean we should but that that's interesting. think about this the america we live in right now. really only came into being in 1965 first integrated electorate was 1968. the immigration and nationality act of 1965 undid the 1924 immigration laws, which is what fdr and others use to justify not bringing in more refugees from nazi, germany.
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65 is the inflection point so we've only been doing this for 50 years. okay next right here. first of all, i want to say that the three of you of all written books that i have enjoyed immensely, but also that because i really made me think and i think that's a great gift and i want to thank you for that and but the canon represented the book i've read most recently was mr. isaacson's the codebreaker and i just want to ask you and i know that you are an optimistic person and the end of your book, you know, the heroic scientist who had been on the front lines and also been the cutting edge, you know, it seemed like you thought they're going to be recognized as true heroes, but what we said are seeing instead is this demonizing of scientists and especially the people in the white coats who are telling us supposedly how to live our lives. i just wondered what you were surprised by that or if you think that's not even the right take i think they're about 20% most of this country who are demonizing scientists and the
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rest of us are totally amazed that they were able to take a molecule of rna and reprogram it and make a spike. 13 fix simile that now means that we can be sitting here in this room without fearing covid. i think that if you ask thomas jefferson and ben franklin about people skeptical of science, they would have thought you were a philistine. they studied anatomy. they studied newton's laws the checks and balances of newton's laws find their way into an enlightenment constitution and it's incumbent on each one of us, especially those of us who are not scientists to appreciate the beauty of science. what i hate is in my any people and audience like they say why don't understand science. i don't like doing science. that's like saying i don't understand music or i don't understand what that's like think i don't understand music or don't understand -- science is not
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just all sorts of formulas in the book. it's a waych of looking at the world in which you come up with ideas, you test those ideas based on fact and then you revise your theories based on evidence you have. that's what we've lost in a lot of america today is not just respecting people in white coats. it's keeping an open mind and saying let me collect the evidence before i come up with a knee-jerk theory. >> okay. go ahead, next. >> my question is mainly for mr. meacham who i used to work for a mr. isaacson who edited the magazine we competed against. i may have misunderstood the time of the series, values and america, but a wanted ask you both as former editors of major news magazines what, if anything, should be responsible mainstream media be doing to combat the coarsening of
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discourse in the country? >> in one word or paragraph or less. >> thank you, mr. friedman. dave rambo recalled the news desk at "newsweek" so he was the nerve center of the operation, all the foreign correspondents spent far more time talking to dave van to their spouses, which explains the divorce rate i think in that crew. i think it's a stress test for anybody with a platform. you've touched a nerve with me because joe biden is my friend. i help him when i can. i'm not a democrat but i believe that his success is the country's success. and i find by and large that the institutional media that we were part of and that lives on in a
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vestigial form has not been commensurate to the scale, the challenge facing the country. it's almost as if, it's almost as though a lot of folks who are our friends and colleagues want this to be 1987 and bob dole and george mitchell or on capital gain. and it's not that. this is more serious. i don't really believe the pulse is a 61% or whatever republicans think election was stolen. think they're probably just poking the poster a bit. let's say it's 40% of a great party that thinks that. in that kind of climate i think that reflective objectivity is something that has to be seriously examined. >> okay. let me come for all of you before we get the next question, for writers who are watching what's the bestou way you can
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summarize on how to overcomeho writer's block? do you ever have writer's block? howdy how do you overcome i? >> actually use chess clock and i get -- i don't do it anymore, a fixed amount of time that have to sitit at the desk, look at typewriter, computer, and even if i'm not writing anything, the time is moving. but if i get up, if i answer the phone i hit the plunger and eventually out of boredom if i'm sitting there and counting that time, something is going to go down. >> so that usica, okay. how do you overcome writer's block? >> he wrote back and forth to jump in redwood and he would have to write d 2000 were today. i use nicotine. which is, , children, don't lisn to this. closure ears. i said a certain number of words and then i can have a cigar and it can't have it until i write
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that of words. >> so it's the care and stick approach or carrot and cigar approach. >> not to compare to leonardo, but an artist like leonardo when he got stumped we keep sketching it out, keep refining it. i have an outline of what i want to write andyp sometimes i'm really, really well and typing well but if not i just keep refining the outline. >> to use an outline? >> yeah. >> someme great writers like hemingway or james joyce the drink a lot of alcohol. does the writing driving to the alcohol or dizzy alcohol make you a better writer? no experience with you you without? >> walter lives in new orleans. >> i think faulkner in tennessee williams and debbie writer here drank a little bit too much, and it helped a bit. but after while there was a problem for it. >> okay. >> go ahead, speak up.
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>> this is a question for john barry. you wrote a book on roger williams and the title also included a reference to the soul of the creation of the soul of america, and i was wondering how the issues in a that book would reflect today in where we are in the discussions were talking about, the soul of america? >> thank you, susan. friend of mine. wanted to get me into the conversation i guess. [laughing] youu know, that book actually began with a book on the homefront world war i. and i had planned to, you know, i identified certain characters that were going, and culminating events in 1919, a very difficult year in american history. one of the characters that i was going to follow was billy sunday and just doing due diligence on
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billy sunday i started going back to the beginning of the argument over church and statete and the role of politics and so forth and so on. and i discovered that if you change the grammar that the argument between john winthrop andnd roger williams, winthrop s of course a guy you know, sitting on a hill, that that was exactly the same argument that we are having today. so things don't change, people don't change, the view of, you know, whether we are a christian nation or not, you know, that has gone back to the very beginning of american history. >> so two of you live in new orleans, one of you lives in tennessee. so does living in thehe south or
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new orleans help you be a better writer? >> yeah. >> >> yes. >> okay, all right. [laughing] [applause] >> walter, you've lived in the nation's capital. doe you think the country would be better off if new orleans was the nation's capital?ye [laughing] >> no. >> okay. so we're out of our time, so thank you all very much and thank you. >> thank thank you, david. good job, good job. [applause] >> american history tv saturdays on c-span2 exploring the people and events that tell the american story. at 2 p.m. eastern on the presidency part seven of our eight part series first ladies in her own words. we will look at the role of first lady, their time in a house and issues important to them.
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this week we will feature michelle obama. >> with every action we take, with every word we utter, we think about the millions of children who are watching us, who hang on to our every word looking to us to show them who they can't and should be. that's why every day we try to be the kind of people, the kind of leaders that your children deserve, whether you agree with our politics or not. >> and at 2:45 p.m. eastern the white house historical association hosts a conference on the american presidency focusing on topics such as history and civic engagement, digital history, first ladies in fact, influence and interpreting slavery and race at historic sites. exploring the american story, watch american history tv saturday on c-span2 and find a full schedule in your program guide or watch online anytime at
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>> c-span now is a free mobile app featuring or unfiltered view of what's happening in washington live and on-demand. keep up with today's biggest events with with live streams of floor proceedings and hearing some u.s. congress, white house events, the courts, campaigns and more from the world of politics all at your fingertips. you can also stay current with the latest episodes of "washington journal" and find schedule information for c-span's tv networks in c-span radio plus a variety of compelling podcasts. c-span that is available at the apple store and google play. downloaded for free today. c-span now your front-row seat to washington anytime anywhere. >> good morning and thank you both for coming. my name is parker van houten. i may fit your senior at the university of kentucky. i stay vocal performs an arctic administration at the university and i'm very happy to be here on this brisk and blustery morning.


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