Jon Meacham says history shows that Americans tend to erect monuments not in honor of "people who build walls," but rather those "who open doors."
"We honor liberators, not captors," Meacham, an acclaimed presidential historian and former Newsweek editor-in-chief, told a crowd Tuesday at a ceremony marking the American Evolution 400th Anniversary Commemoration in Jamestown, Va.
President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE is poised to deliver remarks at the commemoration, but had not yet arrived as Meacham was speaking.
"Extremism, racism, nativism, xenophobia and isolationism driven by a fear of the unknown tend to spike in periods of stress — a period like our own," Meacham, 50, said.
The Pulitzer Prize winner continued with a sobering take on the current political climate, saying, "As we gather here, faith in representative institutions is ebbing. Reflexive partisanship is the order of the day. Too many seem more interested in producing heat than shedding light. Our politics rewards the clenched fist and the harsh remark more than the open hand and the welcoming word."
"Yet history teaches us that we've always grown stronger the more widely we've opened our arms and the more generously we've interpreted the most important sentence ever rendered in English: Thomas Jefferson's assertion that all men are created equal," said Meacham, who did not mention Trump by name during his speech.
The "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House" author likened the history of Jamestown to "the story of America."
"At our best we reach out, we look ahead and we dream big. And at our best we close the gap between the ideal and the real," he said. The test, Meacham said, "turns on how often we heed our better angels rather than our worst instincts."
"Jamestown is a mirror of who we were and who we are," he continued. "Dreamers and doers came here and they built, and we stand in the light of their achievement."
"In our finest hours, America has been about life, it's been about liberty, it's been about the pursuit of happiness not just for some, but for all. And in that history, history rooted here in this place, lies our hope."