Meacham’s latest book serves as a sobering reminder that protest, divisive politics, and partisan rancor have been near-constants in the United States.
undits, politicians, and plenty of voters have described the Trump era as one of unprecedented circumstances.
The author points out that Obama, later the same day, went to South Carolina, where he delivered a stirring eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. A white man, motivated by racial hatred, shot and murdered Pinckney in a massacre of nine African Americans at a Bible study.
Obama hedged for years before publicly supporting gay marriage, a shift that echoes Meacham’s nuanced portrait of Truman and civil rights. Truman was known to use racist language, came from a family that loathed Lincoln and celebrated Lee, and, even in post-presidential retirement, badly missed the importance and significance of the March on Washington in 1963
Yet, as president, Truman often struck the right note on race, demanding equality in the military and beyond in the face of stiff political opposition. In doing so, he helped set the stage for Lyndon Johnson to embrace the tireless, courageous prodding of King and the civil rights movement to advance the cause of race relations more than any president since Lincoln.
The book’s subtitle, “The Battle for Our Better Angels,” pays homage to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, itself an example of a nation struggling with the chasm between its ideals and its realities. FDR, Meacham reminds us, once said the presidency is “pre-eminently a place of moral leadership” while Truman noted, “The people have often made mistakes, but given time and the facts, they will make the corrections
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