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Presidential historian Jon Meacham captivated a Lied Center for Performing Arts capacity crowd Tuesday night, bringing America's tragic year of 1968 back to life in dramatic fashion while placing the nation's challenges of 2018 in perspective. 

"I'm here to tell you that things have been worse," Meacham told more than 2,000 listeners who attended the annual Governor's Lecture in the Humanities, a Humanities Nebraska event conducted as part of the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues.

"A more perfect union is our goal," Meacham said.  

"The Constitution was written for this time and moment," he declared.

The free public lecture followed a sold-out benefit reception and dinner at the Embassy Suites that raised $170,000 for Humanities Nebraska. 

Meacham's newest book, "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels," looks back at critical times in American history when hope overcame division and fear. 

"I know you all think things are bad" when looking at the sharp divisions in the country today, Meacham said.  

But consider 1968 and a war that was raging in Vietnam and killing young American soldiers every day, he said, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, riots and fires in American cities, civil rights demonstrations that turned deadly, a president driven from office.

"The best of us, the worst of us, can be seen in that year," Meacham said.

"Trouble did not start on Election Day 2016," he said.

Answering written questions from the audience following his address, Meacham urged citizens who are concerned to "make your case and realize it takes a long time."

And if you need evidence of that, he suggested, "ask African-Americans, ask women, ask gay Americans."

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"What argument is there that diversity is a weakness?" Meacham earlier declared. "There is none."

The time is ripe to "engage someone with whom you disagree," he responded to another question.

"Bear witness. You can join the arena."

Asked about his view of the recent Senate proceedings that led to the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to become a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Meacham said: "It wasn't a deliberation; it was a performance. Not a mind was changed."

When another member of the audience urged Meacham to look ahead 50 years to 2068 after looking back 50 years to 1968, he paused before he answered: "This country is going to look a lot more like Barack Obama's America than Donald Trump's." 

Meacham's biography of Andrew Jackson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and he also has authored best-sellers centered on the lives of Thomas Jefferson and George H.W. Bush.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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