Jimmy Carter was once asked if the most exciting moment of his life was the night he won the U.S. presidential election or when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Without missing a beat, the former president said it was the night Rosalynn said she’d marry him.
After 77 years of marriage, Rosalynn, 96, passed away Sunday at the same ranch house the couple have shared since 1961. It’s the first time in more than three-quarters of a century that the pair have been separated.
The Carters have long been America’s inspirational story.
From their work together to Rosalynn’s mental health advocacy to President Carter’s well-documented work building homes for the needy, they have been the embodiment of sacrifice, decency and compassion for the last several decades of their lives. Those same attributes defined Carter’s presidency.
He is a good man. She was a good woman.
America could use a lot more of both right now.
In a time when degradation and physical altercations among American leaders is commonplace, it sure would be nice to remember the goodness of the Carters. Of the Reagans. Of the Obamas. Of the Fords. Of the Bush families. Of the Bidens.
We didn’t have to agree with their politics, and we could even find severe fault with some of their actions, but we never doubted their love of country and their devotion to its laws and people. We never worried that they wouldn’t leave office when their time came. We never even considered that they, or the people who voted for them, might be willing to destroy the country in order to retain power.
But here we are.
In a time when the leading candidate in one of the two major political parties is openly and frequently calling for a religious test for entry into the country. When the same man is openly speaking of violence against his political enemies.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the nastiness of that candidate – a person indicted for 91 different crimes – has leached its way into everyday political discourse.
In a single day last week, Republicans in Congress – some of our highest elected leaders – participated in embarrassing displays of childish behavior. A former House speaker elbowed a colleague. A U.S. senator challenged a witness in a hearing to fistfight in the chamber. The chairman of a House committee called another member a “smurf” during a hearing. Another House member questioned if a colleague had male anatomy.
All of it occurring during official government business.
At the same time, there is an active push to whitewash the actions of Jan. 6, with Republicans pushing insane conspiracy theories of FBI involvement and government plants being the true instigators of violence. They somehow believe that viewing all of the Jan. 6 footage will cast things in a different light, that the footage of massive groups of Trump supporters beating police officers, crashing through windows, charging into the House chambers, stealing items from congressional offices and smearing feces on the walls of the Capitol can be overshadowed by footage of some people not doing those things.
All the while, the leader of this Wannabe Coup is doing all he can to trash the court system that’s attempting to finally hold him accountable for something in his life. He has attacked judges, their clerks, the district attorneys, a special counsel and the men and women who have served on the juries that indicted him.
Of course, attacking is what he does. He attacked the generals who disagreed with him, the elected leaders who refused to break laws for him, the former aides who told the truth about him and anyone who failed to do exactly what he wanted when he wanted.
And along the way, all of that hateful, spiteful rhetoric entered normal political conversation within the Republican Party. You hear it every day now among GOP officials and conservative voters, as they attack each other and toss childish names around.
It’s easy to forget, I think, that this isn’t normal. That it wasn’t always like this, even among people who disagree politically.
The job of president, more than anything else, is cheerleader. Cheerleader for the country. Cheerleader for the people. Cheerleader for ideas that they think will make us better.
It has not, historically, been a position earned by someone who seeks to tear down others, or to invoke fear that their country and their lives are not safe because of their political opponents. Those are tactics typically used by dictators in third-world countries.
America, historically, has leaned towards inspiration – the shining beacon on the hill, a land of hope, the American dream. At our core, we believed we were good, we took pride in the fact that so many sought to come here to live their dreams.
Now, there are people running around predicting the demise of the U.S. and wearing hats saying we need to make this place great again. America is already great, and as long as we keep moving towards the stated goals of this country – to treat all people equally and respect all rights and religions – we always will be.
But if we ever want to be a little better, a little kinder, a little more empathetic, we could take the lessons taught by Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter.