Review: A historical night with writer Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin is the author of six New York Times best-selling books. She spoke at Butler on Feb. 12. Photo by Maria Rapisarda.

MARIA RAPISARDA | OPINION EDITOR | mrapisar@butler.edu

“Our lives may not be remembered through monuments and statues, but they will be through memories.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin closed her Diversity Lecture Series talk entitled “Where Do We Go From Here: Leadership in Turbulent Times” on Tuesday, Feb. 12 with this inspirational message.

As the author of six New York Times best-selling books and the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for history, it comes as no surprise to the audience that Goodwin has a way with words.

As a junior history & political science and Spanish double major, Nathan Hall appreciates Butler bringing a prolific historian like Goodwin to campus.

“It’s really rewarding, just to see someone who’s been really successful, and gives you something to strive for,” Hall said. “It makes me and my department feel valued.”

Through her talk, Goodwin explores the similarities and differences between three great presidents and our current one, Donald J. Trump.

Citing the importance of resilience, conflicting opinions and relaxation, Goodwin gives us an evaluation of how President Trump is stacking up against titans of their times: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Almost all of these three presidents overcame tremendous adversity in their lives, including illiteracy, polio and deceased loved ones. All these men had to have their fair share of trials.

“All leaders must develop resilience through their trials by fire,” Goodwin said.

In addition, according to Goodwin, Lincoln and the Roosevelts made it a point to surround themselves with adversaries and challenging opinions in order to foster healthy debate and an openness to conflicting viewpoints.

“It was encouraging at first to see that almost all of Trump’s cabinet nominees disagreed with him,” Goodwin said, “[This] seemed to suggest that he wanted a team that would argue and question him.”

However, Goodwin is quick to point out, just as the audience was quick to laugh at the fact, that Trump and his administration have made a series of blunders, particularly with more than 17 officials quitting or being fired.

“While clearly there have been a number of mistakes, it’s not uncommon in the early days of a presidency to see these kinds of troubles,” Goodwin said, “The critical question for President Trump is how much is he learning? Is his temperament suited for self-reflection? [Learning and self-reflection] will make a central difference in his effectiveness as President.”

She implores people to find what helps them recharge.

For Abraham Lincoln, it was his love for the theatre that aided in his sanity.

For Theodore Roosevelt, it was his passion for the wilderness, nature and hiking that gave him a sense of serenity.

For Franklin Roosevelt, it was time spent at cocktail parties with his friends and colleagues that allotted time for repose.

For Donald Trump, it is his golfing trips.

The audience is a mix of laughs and groans, but Goodwin insists this is normal and part of a healthy routine.

“If being at home provides relaxation and renewal, I think it’s just fine,” Goodwin said.

For the most part, though, Goodwin notes the difference in positive communication with the media, emotional handling of criticism and frequent interaction with the public between her presidents of the past and our current one.

While her love of what she calls “her guys” shines through in her lecture, she also expressed a love of teaching. As a former professor in government at Harvard University, Goodwin has the unique experience of being able to share her knowledge and passion of history with her students.

It is important for her to show her students the value in exploring avenues other than their own.

“The less we have people thinking and reading about different ideas,” Goodwin said, “that’s when democracy fails.”

Most can attest to the merits a good teacher has on their students. Goodwin emphasizes that teachers can help students find their passion in life. Her decision to pursue history was thanks to one of her teachers.

For junior Christina Barraclough, a history and anthropology double major, Goodwin’s visit brings deserved attention to academic scholars.

“[People should come] to appreciate academic scholarship in a world where scholars don’t normally get appreciated,” Barraclough said.

And Goodwin acknowledges the importance of academia in her own way.

“Never has the role of liberal arts institutions been more vital in these turbulent times,” Goodwin said.

Becca Schmiegel, a junior history major, agrees with both Goodwin and Barraclough, but goes further to say why people should hear about history specifically.

“I think it’s important that people come to this event because it shows that our culture has an understanding of the past and we can use that to implement our future,” Schmiegel said.

The decision and importance of bringing Goodwin to campus was one that Community Relations Associate of Butler, Bethanie Danko, understands and hopes students take advantage of.

“She has such an interesting take on history, and I think that she has a particularly fascinating view about the evolution of the role of the presidency,” Danko said. “And she also, I think, has a great take on how we can use lessons from the past to inform the present and the future. And she does all of that naturally through a lens of being a woman, which I think is another good reason to be here.”

An event filled with laughter, learning, love and, yes, some tears, the Diversity Lecture Series continues to bring insightful speakers that offer new perspectives to students.

The next Diversity Lecture Series event is on Mar. 7 at 7pm in the Reilly Room featuring media analyst and journalist Ellen Hume.

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