Can America’s Problems Be Fixed By a President Who Loves Jon Meacham?


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Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer who has spent the last two decades pounding out bestselling accounts of American presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and George H.W. Bush. In June 2019, Joe Biden invited Meacham to Newark, Delaware, for a conversation about the biographer’s recent volume, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, a 416-page meditation on how enlightened political leaders, propelled by a civic-minded citizenry, have rescued America at its darkest hours. Meacham explained that the country’s soul “is not all good or all bad” but rather an abiding conflict between “our better angels” and “our worst instincts.”

Two months before Biden announced his third run for the presidency, the intellectual underpinnings of the campaign were already in place. His ensuing candidacy was an exercise in moving Meacham’s thesis from the page to the stump: Biden cribbed Meacham’s book title for his campaign framing, a “battle for the soul of the nation,” and Meacham occasionally weighed in on the narrative and thematic elements of Biden’s major speeches.

On today’s episode, listen to an exploration of how Meacham has lingered on as a sort of historical and spiritual adviser to a White House beset by crisis, written by Mother Jones reporter Kara Voght. This is our first in a biweekly Summer series of read-aloud investigations, produced by our partners at Audm. You can read Kara’s piece from April on