Presidential historian says the presidency has made Trump a smaller man
Jon Meacham (MSNBC)

Presidential historian Jon Meacham noted that so many presidents of both parties have managed to bring people together over tragedy. Whether it was Roosevelt during the Great Depression and World War II or George W. Bush during 9/11 or Barack Obama after the many mass shootings. For generations, presidents have been able to celebrate and mourn with Americans and empathize with heartbreak. Under President Donald Trump, however, Americans are dealing with a different kind of leader.


Speaking to MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace Monday, Meacham talked about the "moral leadership" of the presidency that adds a kind of "spiritual dimension" to the office.

"Woodrow Wilson, for all his faults, had the insight that the presidency enables a man to be as big as he can," he recalled. "And what we've seen, tragically, in the last three years is that obviously also the obverse is true, that you can be as small as you can. I think the presidency is a mystical office and people get upset about that and they think that people like me are overly romantic or sentimental about it. But as a matter of clinical observation, the country tends to do better when a president, as you say, is empathetic and signals that his concerns and cares are our concerns and cares, and vice versa."

He noted that for all the controversy about previous presidencies, they have all filled a certain kind of moral leadership, "and that's simply not what we have now."

The two then discussed the declaration by Trump that he has been treated worse than President Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated while in office.

"Do you think he knows what happened to Lincoln?" asked Wallace.

"Vaguely, he probably saw a trailer for the movie at some point," Meacham said. "You know, we have to remember, we're dealing with a president who is the human equivalent of an open synapse, right? It's just a reaction. It's just nerve endings, and that's all it is. And there's not a strategy to it or strategery, in honor of President Bush. It's just what we're living in this narcissistic drama, where too many of us, including, dare I say it, you and I right now, we're enabling it, right? We're talking about it."

Meacham said he doesn't think Trump sees them as swing voters or even care about what they think but that they are all part of Trump's melodrama.

"I think you have to acknowledge that," he continued. "We have to acknowledge that, my own view, and I think it's your view, too, is if you don't speak up and speak out, as John Lewis would put it, then you are not fulfilling your role in a democracy, lower case 'd.' On the Lincoln thing, you know, you don't -- Everett Dirksen once said, 'every politician has to get right with Lincoln.' I think Trump's version of that is, predictably, he's just someone whom he, Trump, can outstrip in some way."

Watch the full discussion below: