Democrats and Republicans Should Model Carter’s Civility

Ever since I received my Emory acceptance last December, I had been anticipating the Carter Town Hall; the chance to hear from a former U.S. president in person seldom occurs.

As the rest of the freshman class and I shuffled into the George W. Woodruff Physical Education Center on Sept. 12, I started thinking of questions that former U.S. President and Emory University Distinguished Professor Jimmy Carter might answer. I jotted down my question, asking him if he preferred “Friends” or “The Office.” I waited anxiously for the surprisingly sharp 93-year-old president to finish his speech. Though I was patient and had faith that my question would be selected out of the thousands submitted, it wasn’t meant to be. However, during the question-and-answer portion of the town hall I learned more about Carter as person rather than a POTUS; he is a leading example of avoiding polarization in a fraught political climate, which is truly admirable.

Throughout the night, Carter was funny, respectable, noble, sweet and all things in between. When asked what the most memorable day of his life was, he answered, “When my wife said she would marry me,” much to the delight of the entire audience, who simultaneously awed.

Knowing Carter is a Democrat, I expected most, if not all, of his responses to political questions be anti-President Donald J. Trump. Admittedly, some were. When asked what he would do if he could become president again, he said he would change all of Trump’s policies. The crowd erupted into applause. Again, I expected answers like that; most Democrats are fiercely anti-Trump, and they have good reason to be. Some of Trump’s recent decisions, including his decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and ban transgender people from the military can be described as nothing short of inhumane.

As someone in the middle of the political spectrum, I pride myself on being an objective observer of politicians and their actions. Rather than adhering to strict party lines, I try to measure how a certain policy can affect the American people, and then make my decision on whether or not to support it. Unfortunately, I don’t see this being practiced very often, especially with the increasing polarization and partisanship. I didn’t expect Carter to look at things objectively either, because I rarely encounter politicians praising members of the opposite party.  

But Carter’s response to the next question shocked me. He was asked, given his own foreign policy experience, how he thinks Trump is handling North Korea.

“So far, [Trump] has handled the North Korean situation properly,” Carter said. “I’m very glad he met with Kim Jong-un and they worked out a verbal arrangement [for denuclearization].”

I was in awe. Carter, a staunch Democrat who had just talked about undoing Trump’s policies, had the respect and civility to acknowledge a positive aspect of Trump’s presidency. The Emory community saw, to some extent, an effort to make politics respectable again.

Political battles are fought on Twitter. Sexual harassment on Capitol Hill is as common as a cold. As a young American, I am disgusted with the way America’s “leaders” handle themselves on a daily basis. When other world leaders insult our leadership, I should want to defend my representatives. Instead, I find myself agreeing with their critics.

Politics shouldn’t be about blind and undying loyalty to one party. It should be about undying loyalty to the American people. Communication, camaraderie, compromise: these concepts should be etched into America’s political culture.

In today’s political climate, nobody attempts to reach across the table. People refuse to acknowledge any valuable ideas or policies the opposing party brings to the table. Carter demonstrated how we should perceive not only the presidency but really anyone in our lives — with critical thinking and fairness. Everyone has something beneficial to offer, and we should judge them not as a whole, but by their individual actions. Take a page out of Carter’s book, and start to give credit where credit is due, regardless of your beliefs. To avoid increasing polarization in the future, political objectivity is desperately needed, and I hope we can all start to use it a little more.

Ryan Callahan (22C) is from Richboro, Pa.

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