Jimmy Carter Warned of Trumpism in 1979

by James M. Wall

Last week brought more ill-informed, mean-spirited acts from our current President.  Before reviewing some of those acts, pause with me for a moment to give thanks for Jimmy Carter.

Here is just the latest reason to be thankful for our 39th President.

President Carter delivered a speech from his White House Oval Office, July 15, 1979, which John Farmer, Jr. describes as “a prophetic 1979 warning of Trumpism”. 

Farmer, former attorney general of New Jersey, and now a professor at Rutgers School of Law at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, wrote a guest column for the Newark, NJ, Star-Ledger, on January 16, which examines Carter’s speech:

Farmer begins by quoting from the speech:

“We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own. Our people are losing that faith … “

Farmer writes that President Carter’s speech “offers an uncannily prescient perspective on the urgent question: how did we get here”?

Carter “warned of a spiritual crisis that he identified as toxic to American ideals. In describing that crisis, moreover, he might well have had the lifestyle and values of his 21st century successor in mind”.

Farmer quotes Carter further:

“[T]oo many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”

A full audio copy of Carter’s speech may be accessed by clicking here

In a Hollywood 2016 movie, 20th Century Women, starring Annette Bening, two minutes of Carter’s speech,”Crisis of Confidence”, was heard by Bening. Images in the film clip below illustrate what she hears. 

Click here to view.

In our current crisis, our newly-elected President Donald Trump began this past week exploiting and disrespecting The Boy Scouts’ Oath and Law before a crowd of more than 35,000 Boy Scouts, their parents and leaders.

Trump appeared oblivious to the reality that he was addressing leading figures, scouts and leaders, in an organization that now has 2.4 million youth participants and nearly one million adult volunteers.

Trump cited the Scout law, but got no further than the word “loyalty”, before he went off on a tirade about the lack of loyalty he encounters these days. He then told a story about a wealthy American tycoon which he hinted might have some naughty bits. 

As a former member of Boy Scout Troop 505, Monroe, Georgia, I was disgusted with the President’s speech at this year’s Boy Scout Jamboree.

Steven Bosak, a Cub Scout leader and a parent, took to the pages of the Washington Post to weigh in on the President’s speech. He lamented:

My youngest Cub Scout could have watched that speech and realized that no Scout should think of Trump as a role model. Trump boasted, he preened, he whined, he threatened — and he spoke about the importance of winning. Win, win, win, he chanted, as if he were channeling the Great Santini character in the well-known book.

Loyalty is included in the Boy Scout oath and law, but to Trump, “loyalty”, was not applied to the lives of the boys, parents and leaders to whom he spoke. Like everything else in his narrow world, the word loyalty applies only to himself.  


A Boy Scout pledges to follow that
 Scout Law, words which have been memorized and embraced since Scouting began in 1908.  A Scout is expected to always be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent”. 

I find not one word in that list for which President Trump has demonstrated even the slightest affinity. This man is so focused on himself that he sees no shame in his performance. 

Officials of the Boy Scouts, apologized for the speech:

A leader of the Boy Scouts of America apologized Thursday for a speech that President Trump gave to thousands of teenage Scouts earlier this week — in which Trump broke with the Scouts’ earnest traditions by criticizing his political opponents, recounting his election victory and talking about parties on yachts.

“I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent,” Michael Surbaugh, whose title is chief Scout executive, wrote in a message posted online.

Two days later, Trump committed his second atrocious act of the week, tweeting an unexpected ignorant, insensitive, declaration, that he will instruct “his generals” to rescind an Obama-era action that allows transgender Americans to serve openly in the military.

Such an action is not only ill-informed and unjustified, it demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the successful integration and valued service of transgender military personnel into our nation’s armed forces.

One of “his generals”, who are the nation’s generals, not his, quickly responded with the obvious reminder that a “tweet” is not a presidential order. If such an order of implementation were directed to “his generals”, such implementation might just take a bit longer than Trump expects.

At the end of last week, Trump continued his “tough guy” self, delivering advice to police officers.  The advice, The Daily Beast reports, was vintage Trump:

During an address on Long Island on Friday, President Trump called gang members “animals” and praised law enforcement for being “rough,” even suggesting that they not “be too nice” to people they arrest. 

The Atlantic detected an echo of Richard Nixon in Trump’s law and order posturing.

Trump’s idea of toughness often comes at odds with the law. Disturbingly, his speech on Friday, with law-enforcement agents behind, was a long paean to systemic police brutality and lament for the ways the law restrains officers. He praised officers from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for their toughness. For example, he recounted meeting a man, apparently a would-be vigilante, with whom he discussed the high crime rate in Chicago:

“He said the problem could be straightened out. I said, “How long would it take you to straighten out this problem?” He said, “If you give me the authority, a couple days. I really mean it.” I said, “You really think so?” He said, “We know all the bad guys. The officers know all the bad ones in the area. We know them all. A couple of days.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I said, “Give me your card.” He gave me his card and I sent it to the mayor. I said, “You want to try using this guy.” 

“You want to try using this guy”. So far, no response from the Mayor.  

Below is another brief clip from Carter’s television address 38 years ago. He closed the speech with a warning which John Farmer, Jr., described above, as a “prophetic warning of Trumpism”.

To view that clip, click here https://youtu.be/A-c4WSd2d9M

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Donald Trump, Politics and Elections, Religious Faith. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Jimmy Carter Warned of Trumpism in 1979

  1. Charlton Price says:

    Thank you, Jim. I hope this will be read in and to many group by their sponsors and leaders.

  2. Patricia says:

    The question is, “Why is Trump still President?”. He is utterly disgusting! Impeach Now!

  3. AWAD SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim. We need a new American President who has Jimmy Carter’s character, integrity, and vision, who will replace President Trump, very soon.
    No American President has brought down America’s iconic stature in the world, as President Trump has in a mere 6 months. His actions are dramatically dramatically undermining and reversing, “Make America Great Again”, by spinning our great country into scores of dangerous traps.
    Judging by his reckless actions so far, I am afraid that President Trump may deliberately handle North Korea and Iran in ways that are sure to distract from his current predicament, erroneously thinking that it will bolster his fan base at home. Very baaad.

  4. Thanks for this, Jim. I recall that most of the media reacted very negatively to Pres. Carter’s speech, some saying that he shouldn’t be preaching or moralizing to the nation. I also remember several of your prescient editorials in the CC explaining how the media does not understand Carter, that he really believes in Christianity rather than mouthing it like most other politicians so most reporters are baffled by him. How I miss him, all the more with each passing day as the prestige of the American presidency sinks lower and lower each day

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