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America on Trial

Jon Meacham, Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, author of The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels – TIME: “Here we are … trapped in a time of demagoguery, reflexive partisanship and a Hobbesian world of constant and total political warfare. We know all the factors: the return of the kind of partisan media that shaped us in the 18th and 19th centuries; relentless gerrymandering that has produced few swing congressional districts; the allure of reality-TV programming that has blurred lines between entertainment and governance….We are now grappling with a new chapter in that struggle, one that includes the salience of the Constitution, the sovereignty of our elections and the possible impeachment of a President. At the Constitutional Convention, George Mason of Virginia asked, “Shall any man be above justice? Above all, shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice?” The answer was no; no man shall be above justice. What will determine that?

We will–We the People. The people matter, for politicians are far more often mirrors of who we are rather than molders. And we are all on trial. In his speech at American University in June 1963 proposing a ban on nuclear testing, President John F. Kennedy said, “Man can be as big as he wants.” Or as small. The risk we face often grows out of the anger of crowds–literal and, now, also virtual–of the alienated and the emboldened. The better Presidents, the better citizens, do not cater to such forces; they conquer them with a breadth of vision that speaks to the best parts of our soul….”

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