Churchill Lecturer Celebrates Churchill and FDR, Critiques Trump

After being inducted into the Association of Churchill Fellows of Westminster College, Meacham delivers the 2017 Kemper Lecture. PHOTO BY JIM MALVEN.


Pulitzer Prize winning writer Jon Meacham paid a visit to Westminster College on Saturday as the Enid and R. Crosby Kemper Lecturer and delivered a talk entitled, “The Relevance of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.”

People in the packed Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, heard Meacham speak but also witnessed his induction, along with several other people such as Westminster President Dr. Benjamin Akande and Gen. David H. Petraeus, into the Association of Churchill Fellows of Westminster College.

The lecture began with a call to order by Dr. David Jones, associate vice president, associate dean of faculty and marshal of the college. Following Jones was her honorable Edwina Sandys, Sir Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, who is also a Churchill Fellow. Sandys had the task of inducting the newest fellows into the association. Two of the new inductees were Akande and Meacham, who were honored with a medal that Sandys personally gave to them.

R. Crosby Kemper III introduced Meacham, who warmed the crowd with his self-deprecating humor and then thanked Churchill, saying that he would not be there if it were not for him.

In his lecture, Meacham drew comparisons between the current President Donald Trump and the subjects of his talk, Churchill and former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told stories of Churchill and Roosevelt, of how close they were during World War II. He spoke of unity, highlighting the idea of working together to achieve great things. For us to learn, he said, we must first fight against ignorance, an idea that foreshadowed his later remarks about President Trump.

Dr. John Langton, professor of political science, characterized Meacham’s lecture as a “sustained critique” of the Trump administration in its focus on the openness and transparency of Churchill and Roosevelt.

“Churchill and FDR told it to the people straight, kept their promises and avoided deception,” Langton said. “I took that as an opposite and not so subtle critique of our current president.”

Meacham also emphasized the idea of allies, as one of the things a good leader should have.

“The best way to have a friend is to be one,” he said.

Meacham drew a parallel between Trump and former President Andrew Jackson, who Trump has claimed as one of his models of leadership. Meacham, whose biography of Jackson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, wrote an open letter to Trump in a local newspaper, urging the president to focus less on Jackson’s temperamental legacy and more his commitment to the American union.

Afterwards, according to Meacham, former President George H.W. Bush called him saying that “Jackson would pay more attention” to his words than Trump.

Scovia Aweko, a senior majoring in political science, said, “If America is to be great as Meacham mentioned, it cannot afford to close itself off from the rest of the world.”

She added, “I think his emphasis on global cooperation and diplomacy is more relevant right now than ever, considering some of the security threats [and] dilemmas that face the world today.”

Meacham closed his lecture by remembering Churchill and his fight for unity, stating that he learned from the prime minister important insights, such as, “The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope.”

After an hourlong break, guests refilled the church to listen to National Churchill Museum Director Tim Riley’s conversation with former CIA Director and retired Gen. David Petraeus.

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