The Elders / Flickr Jimmy Carter at a press conference...
The Elders / Flickr

It’s no new information that this nation is at the nadir of it’s existence right now, but it’s another thing altogether to hear it from a former president, let alone on the anniversary of a famous piece of oratory by that president on this very topic.  39 years ago today Jimmy Carter delivered his Crisis of Confidence speech, considered one of the finest pieces of presidential oratory ever written, and his words then seem mild compared with the disunion which we face today.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom; and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too 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.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

Carter saw with perfect clarity 39 years ago where we were and now we have the king of shallowness,whose identity is solely forged by what he owns and what he consumes, and for whom disrespect for government is a selling point, in the Oval Office. And we’re paying no small price for that. Salon:

“I think that under Trump the government is worse than it has been before,” Carter explained by email. “This is the first time I remember when the truth is ignored, allies are deliberately aggravated, China, Europe, Mexico and Canada are hurt economically and have to hurt us in response, Americans see the future worse than the present, and immigrants are treated cruelly.”

Carter is 93 and has seen a very great deal. He’s sounding the same key notes he did before, about ignoring truth, seeing the future as worse than the present, plus some new ones that have occurred in the era of Trump.  The last Republican president drove the economy off a cliff, this one is driving off our entire culture and stature in the world.


  1. The writer of this story must be too young to remember the Carter years. Massive layoffs in the steel and auto industries, 12% mortgages, the disgraceful debacle in Iran. Saying the Carter years sucked is polishing a turd.

    • I am not at all too young to remember the Carter years. I was already an adult and working when he was in office.

      I think you are reading too much into this piece. I did not say the Carter years were glorious and problem free. I said that his Crisis of Confidence speech was one of the best pieces of presidential oratory ever written and it is considered that by many.

      Also, I greatly respect all his humanitarian work, which he continues into his nineties. I find that very inspirational.


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