Boyd Matheson’s Think Again: Jimmy Carter’s cause for American Confidence
This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.
Former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, has begun his final march into the twilight of history. The 98-year-old has returned to his Plains, Georgia home, with hospice care, after a series of hospital stays. He begins the ending of a most extraordinary life with confidence that he has made a difference, not just on the world stage as the leader of the free world, but in the lives of countless individuals in what may stand forever as the most meaningful post-American-presidency in history.
Jimmy Carter was a Sunday School teacher to his core and to the end. He was very familiar with a biblical verse, that I believe offers sound advice for each of us as we attempt to lean into the stiff wind of current local, national and international difficulties. It simply says, “Cast not away therefore your confidence.”
For several years now I have been attempting to help readers, listeners and citizens everywhere to live with confidence. The pessimists, cynics and pundits of doom and gloom want us to believe that all is lost, that America’s founding was fatally flawed, that we are not a nation of high ideals or principles and the notion of a bright future is futile thinking. If you buy into the constant banter of the negativity, you will soon begin to wonder if it is really worth getting out of bed in the morning. Jimmy Carter has been getting up every morning for almost a century with confidence that he could somehow, some way make a difference.
There are far too many in this country who have lost confidence in themselves, in the inherent goodness of people and communities, in the free market economy, in the institutions of government and, above all, have lost confidence in the greatness of America. It is true that there are yet difficult days and trying times ahead of us, individually and collectively, but we simply cannot cast away our confidence.
I have regularly found inspiration from a somewhat unlikely source in the 39th Commander in Chief of the United States. President Jimmy Carter was not known for his great oratory, inspiring words or charisma. He should, however, always be remembered for his model of service and selflessness after his presidency. I repeat, no modern president has shown better how to live a life of meaning, impact, influence and significance after holding the highest office in the land.
On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delivered a speech to the American people from the Oval Office. Most recall it as an address on inflation and the energy crisis. While he did cover those issues, the most powerful portion of his address was actually about America’s crisis of confidence.
President Carter began, “I know, of course, being President, that government actions and legislation can be very important… But after listening to the American people, I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.
“I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America,… with unmatched economic power and military might.
“The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways.
“It is a crisis of confidence.
“It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
“The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”
The same could be said of our nation today. As I read and reread President Carter’s words, I kept thinking that his speech could, and probably should, be delivered today. Given the current state of our union, no would know this address was written 44 years ago.
President Carter continued: “The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprises, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. 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, 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.”
Striking at the heart of the country’s loss of confidence in both our past and our future, President Carter said, “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….
“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.”
President Carter concluded this portion of his address by challenging the American people, “We must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.”
There is so much to unpack and apply from this speech. Reflecting on it today we could ask if President Carter’s words were about a crisis of, or cause for, confidence in our country.
The answer may be found in what we choose to do next as a nation. President Carter shared a thought from a citizen who told him in a meeting prior to his speech, “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.”
Carter understood that confidence in our country is a cottage industry. American confidence is never arrogance and cannot be outsourced. It is quiet, certain and centered in founding principles.
Despite current circumstances, I believe we live at a time and in a country that should inspire confidence. The notion of this nation called America actually incorporates into its formula of freedom all of our faults and flaws along with our failure to sometimes live up to our ideals. That notion of redemption is why America can continue as a confident shining city on a hill and a beacon of liberty to the world.
As citizens, and as a country, this is not the time to cower in a corner. This is not the time for a crisis of confidence. “Cast not away your confidence.” Instead, it is time to draw strength from each other and unite our efforts and energies to make a difference in our communities and states. I believe that in this land, because of this people, there continues to be a cause for confidence and hope for the future.
I am most thankful for the life and legacy of Jimmy Carter. I think he was right in 1979 and has proven through his 98 years that there is indeed cause for confidence in our country. Thank you, Mr. President, for showing what American confidence looks like and acts like.
Boyd Matheson is the host of Inside Sources.
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