Ken Burns: Coronavirus pandemic is crisis “on the level” of Civil War and Great Depression

May 25, 2020

By Mike Allen

Transition Lab, a new podcast hosted by David Marchick, director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, has recorded episodes about the transitions of Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama and Trump.

The state of play: Filmmaker Ken Burns and historian Geoffrey Ward, who have collaborated since 1984 on documentaries that include “The Civil War” and “The Roosevelts,” shared stories about leadership in crisis. Burns called the coronavirus pandemic “as great a crisis as we’ve had.”

More from Burns: “This [pandemic] crisis is on the level of the Second World War, but particularly the Depression and the Civil War. As Lincoln predicted, the danger didn’t come from without, but from within, and now that’s literally medically, epidemiologically true, but also politically and socially true as well.”

  • “We have the opportunity here to press a kind of reset button about our values.”

Burns said that both Lincoln and FDR “made huge and glaring mistakes, but a sign of their leadership was their willingness to accept those mistakes, to acknowledge them publicly, to take the blame, to have the buck stop with them and to move on and try something else.”

  • “The greatest measure of leadership is: Are you part of the solution or are you part of the problem?”

Listen in.

Publication Type: In the News