Former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham appeared with his co-author/country musician Tim McGraw on CBS's Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday night to discuss their book on how popular songs influenced American history, from the founding to the present day. Meacham thrilled the reliably anti-Trump audience by insisting that "we don't build monuments to people who build walls and shut doors."
Colbert asked about which song was most memorable.
MEACHAM: I went to an Episcopal day school in the South. If I ever hear "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee" again, I go back to, I'm four years old. And that was incredibly important. We did chapel five days a week. It was this ambient reality. And it was about sweet land of liberty. And then when you take that language -- how did Dr. King end the sermon at the March on Washington? Sweet land of liberty. Let it ring from every mountainside. It's a line that goes throughout our culture. And so much of this, so much of these ideas are enduring. You know, we're at our best when we try to live up to what Jefferson wrote, that we're all created equal. And we don't build monuments to people who build walls and shut doors. We built build monuments to people -- [Cheers and applause erupt] -- who take them down and open them, right?
And patriotism and protest are the two wings that enable us to take flight. We celebrate, and we also critique. And that's what we're called to do. That's what reason was supposed to do in the arena against passion. And we need more reason now. The reason we're doing this, one of the reasons is we have to find a way to talk to each other.
McGRAW: And not demonize each other.
Not all protests are equal. Nobody is going to ask how protesting Obama policies or criticizing the media makes the country take flight. Those are trashed by the Left as racist or authoritarian.
But it's odd that they pay tribute to sweet reason and trying to talk to each other, without demonizing. About 20 minutes earlier on the same show, Colbert thrilled his audience [and angered the Daily Beast LGBTQ Patrol] by mocking Trump calling Biden a dummy: "Biden's the dummy? May I point out -- only one of you is sitting on Putin's lap with his hand up your butt."
When asked which song can unify the country, Meacham suggested Johnny Cash's song "The Ragged Old Flag," but then said it's great because it can be interpreted in entirely different ways -- not exactly the road to unity.
“He did it in 1974 — of course Nixon’s resignation, Vietnam,” Meacham said. “And he talks about how the flag’s been scandalized and disrespected. So you sit there and think, ‘Well, wait, is he talking about the protester? Or is he talking about the folks who lied us through Vietnam and lied us through Watergate?' And the great thing about that song is you can project whatever perspective you are.”
Meacham concluded, like a true liberal snob: "If you're on the right, you love tradition-- allegedly. If you're on the left, you love data and reason. So history's the one thing that enables us to come together, I think."