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Historian Jon Meacham says GOP “has descended into fantasy, conspiracy and falsehoods”

Historian Jon Meacham, author of several presidential biographies, thinks that former President Trump helped ignite some of the divisions in the Republican Party. Meacham’s new podcast, “Fate of Fact,” is focused on his belief that the Republican Party “has descended into fantasy, conspiracy and falsehoods.”

“There was a lot of gasoline on the garage floor of the Republican Party, and Trump was a match,” Meacham said in an interview with CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett for this week’s episode of “The Takeout” podcast. “And that gasoline, I believe, is partly spilled partly because of almost 90 years of a kind of growing disenchantment with the way Republican presidents actually delivered for their conservative base.”


Highlights from this week’s episode:

  • Historian Jon Meacham on the state of the Republican Party: “There was a lot of gasoline on the garage floor of the Republican Party, and Trump was a match.”
  • The difference between the right and the left: “The left may go crazy and may become dissociated from reality. But if so, it’s going to be this afternoon, not this morning. It hasn’t happened yet.”
  • Attack on the Capitol on January 6: “We came as close to losing the country as we know it on January 6 as we have since the Civil War. And I say that with no hyperbole.”
  • Confronting the legacy of slavery: “We have to be candid, because if we aren’t candid,then we aren’t rooted in reality.”

Meacham, who is an adviser to President Biden and was close to the late President George H.W. Bush, says that he’s not partisan but believes the issues with the Republican Party compared to the Democrats “are not a ‘both-sides’ problem.”

“The left may go crazy and may become dissociated from reality. But if so, it’s going to be this afternoon, not this morning. It hasn’t happened yet,” Meacham said.

Mr. Trump is still promoting falsehoods about the 2020 election, and his supporters who overran the Capitol in January sought to prevent Congress from certifying Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory. Most congressional Republicans sided with Mr. Trump, and there is currently an effort to oust House GOP conference chair Liz Cheney from her leadership position because of her criticism of the former president and her refusal to downplay the attack on January 6.

“We came as close to losing the country as we know it on January 6 as we have since the Civil War. And I say that with no hyperbole,” Meacham said, referring to one of the insurrectionists who breached the Capitol while carrying a Confederate flag. “The Confederates didn’t even get into the Capitol during the Civil War, but they did three months ago.”

Meacham also spoke about ongoing arguments over the founding of the United States. Conservatives have railed against “The 1619 Project,” a series of essays published by the New York Times in 2019 arguing that the introduction of slavery was a foundation of this country, and that the legacy of slavery continues to reverberate through modern politics. The first enslaved people arrived in the colonies in 1619.

“We have to be candid, because if we aren’t candid, then we aren’t rooted in reality,” Meacham, who is White, said. “We were in many ways built on the uncompensated labor of enslaved people, folks who looked like me clung desperately to political power by disenfranchising people who didn’t look like me.”

Meacham expressed hope that there would be a “reckoning” over the history of the country, which “implies that there’s going to be a result out of it.”

“What I hope is that this interest in where did we start and how did we develop, and who’s ‘we,’ will be more illuminating than divisive,” he said.

However, the historian also expressed concern about backlash from White Americans fearful of losing their “hegemony” due to demographic changes.

“We have not seen the last of the White reaction and backlash to a changing demographic and country,” Meacham said.

For more of Major’s conversation with Meacham, download “The Takeout” podcast on Art19, iTunesSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and Stitcher. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch “The Takeout” on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of “The Takeout” episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to “The Takeout” on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).    
Producers: Arden Farhi, Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin, Julia Boccagno and Grace Segers
Show email: [email protected]
Twitter: @TakeoutPodcast
Instagram: @TakeoutPodcast
Facebook: Facebook.com/TakeoutPodcast



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