At first glance, one might think there are no similarities between former president Jimmy Carter and president-elect Donald Trump. Not so fast.
Carter was a peanut farmer who served two terms in the Georgia state senate, one term as governor and was a considered quite an outsider and virtual unknown on the national political scene when he ran for the presidency. He defeated incumbent Gerald Ford and was sworn into office on a sunny but cold Jan. 20, 1977.
Trump is a wealthy businessman, hardly a political insider and with no experience in elected office. Trump captured the Republican nomination and then the presidency in one of the most stunning performances in American electoral history.
I covered Carter’s swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol in my job as a young politics and government reporter for the D.C.-based States News Service, now defunct. I only worked in the nation’s capital for two years, so Carter’s was the only inauguration for which I have personal experience.
Carter, of course, touched upon many themes and goals in his 1,200-word inaugural speech, but 40 years later a couple of his thoughts offer some perspective as the country greets its new leader this week.
Carter said he held hope that when his time as president had ended, people might say this about the nation:
“That we had torn down the barriers that separated those of different race and region and religion, and where there had been mistrust, built unity, with a respect for diversity.”
Carter also said, “Let us create together a new national spirit of unity and trust,” a phrase with considerable resonance in the early years of the post-Watergate era and the end of the Vietnam War.
Trump, too, will enter the presidency facing a challenge of overcoming division and frustration in America.
Here’s one more Carter-Trump similarity that deserves attention. T.R. Reid, then a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote in January 1977 about what to expect with regard to Carter’s relationship with the media. The headline summed it up succinctly: “Reporters See Contentious Task in Covering the Carter Team.”
"Carter may have a honeymoon with Congress, but he's not going to have one with us," said one unnamed reporter quoted in the story. "Anybody who has covered him knows he doesn't like reporters. That makes it tense.” Trump's relationship with reporters thus far has given new meaning to the word contentious.
Carter, now 92 and arguably the most honorable and selfless activist of any ex-president in modern history, plans to attend the Trump inauguration.