Jon Meacham on endorsing Biden and new documentary 'The Soul of America'

The historian discusses the documentary, which is based on his best-selling book of the same name, and wonders what it will take for Americans to believe in the common good of the government again.
8:49 | 10/27/20

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Transcript for Jon Meacham on endorsing Biden and new documentary 'The Soul of America'
It may seem like to some people the country has never been in this deep, dark place before. In the new documentary "Soul of America" Jon Meacham remind us we have been down these roads before and how we found a way take a look. So often people in American history have felt they were on a precipice. They lash out. Build the wall! You saw it with white southerners after reconstruction. You saw it in the plan with immigration, the shifting economy. You saw it in the 1930s. It's incredibly powerful political motion. The great political leaders are the ones whoon't cater to it, who tamp it down instead of flame it. Please welcome Jon Meacham. Good morning. Thank you, ma'am. You've done something for the first time in your very long career as a historian and a presidential bographer. You said you endorsed Joe Biden. What made you do something so unprecedented for you? I think that decency and democracy and the role of fact as opposed to automatic reflexive passion are on the I've been very fortunate in my life. I'm a white male, southern episcopalian. Things have worked out for me. I think America is at its best when people reach out. We're better when we build and not try to tear down. It's a pretty clear choice. I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Democrat. I voted for presidents in both parties. I'm George Bush's biographer. I think vice president Biden is the best choice for this moment. I felt if my conscience and heart and brain were in alignment, I had an obligation toto speak out. The election is only a week away. If vice president Biden wins, what's the immediate impact on the country and also if president trump were to be re-elected? Great question. If vice president Biden wins, a lot depends on also defining what that win is. Does the president accept those results? As important do the presidents most fervent supportaccept those results? If there's a clear victory and everyone has signed on to the constitutional experiment, I think the first thing that will happen and the first thing I hope will happens is there's a rational response to the pandemic. Until we get the pandemic under control all the things we're dealing with will not be fixed. The other thing I hope happens is that politics will become part of our lives and not the consuming prevailing element. Politics, the last five years has had this immense control over our mind share. I think that vice president Biden has theacity to return us to a place where we don't have to wake up worrying about what the president might have said overnight. You know, last night Amy coney Barrett was sworn into the supreme court at a ceremony at the white house. She is now justice Barrett. What are your thoughts on how this process was conducted and what will the political effects be? I understd why people are angry about the political hypocrisy of the Republican majority's views on filling the supreme court seats, but ultimately the constitution itself was adhered to and so one can be unhappy about the way this unfolded, but it's a totally legitimate constitutionally legitimate confirmation. As president trump has said, and I would urge everybody to remember, elections have if you're looking for consistency of principal and people to follow what they said in one era into the next, politicians are probably not the place where you should look for that. Right? Politics is an imperfect, very human undertaking. Itng to be characterized by the vices that all of us have in our own lives. There's going to be selfishness, hypocrisy. For justice Barrett, particularly for religious folks, the supreme court has occupied this powerful position in the center of the conservative mind. It started not with the roe decision, but in 1962 with the school prayer decision. In many ways it started in 1954 with the brown decision when people began to realize that the supreme court mattered enormously. My own hope for us going forward is that particularly people who are inspired by their religion to be in the public arena which is totally legitimate and to be understood and expected I would hope they would start focusing a little bit more on the sermon on the mount than the supreme court. I think we would be better off if folks did that. Jon, in your new documentary, "The soul of America" you note a significant number that stuck with me. You said only 17% of Americans have trust in the federal government. I'm wondering if you think that trump's election was a symptom of the lack of trust or was he a list of it? I think both if I may. I think both are true. I think he is a figure in a populous tradition who took on -- who managed to exacerbate and deepen a fundamental distrust of elites and of institutions which is fascinating given his own socioeconomic place. That's a conversation for history and raphy. He's a symptom and a cause. One of the things that we have to deal with in the country is what was it about the last five years, the last ten years that made so many Americans so desperate, so unhappy? Some were desperate. Some were unhappy with the way the country was working that they were willing to take a flyer on this disruptive figure. We have to deal with that. The number you say -- in 1964 we had 77% of the country believed that the federal government could basically be trusted. Now it's 17%. I think that feels a little high to me. One of the tasks of a potential Biden presidency is going to be can you get people to believe in the common good again? Right. What a great way -- that's the most brilliant way to put it. Can we get them to believe in the common good? The common good is the American good. Hopefully, you know, something will change and, you know, we'll be heading forward. I just want to tell people to check out your podcast. It was said. The documentary "The soul of America" premiers tonight on HBO at 9:0 Jon, thank you for coming to us

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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