As some readers know, for a solid month straight at work I listened to Presidential by the Washington Post and got very deep into focus on qualities of successful Presidential leadership. I had a few favorites in particular when going through presidential legacies–my all-time, JQA, TR, FDR, but in terms of modern politics, Jimmy Carter took the cake. Therefore, I’m kicking off a dose of presidential reading with Turning Point by Jimmy Carter.
Some quick background on why Jimmy Carter is amazing to me?
He’s very religious but it functions in the way it should–his faith has always steered him towards social justice and civil rights and authentically fighting on behalf of rural and black people. He’s unafraid, at least in this book, to talk honestly about all of the racism and gerrymandering that has been a hallmark of his home state, Georgia. Post-presidency he opened The Carter Center which does amazing work world-wide on conflict resolution, medical developments and international aid. In the podcast it was noted that in some ways, he was more effective post-presidency than he was in office.
In short, I find him extremely inspirational in regards to how he has truly made himself devoted to public service worldwide over the past fifty years. There is no other president who has come close to that degree of worldwide dedication (unless we talk about my man JQA, who served in Congress for 18 years post-presidency fighting as an abolitionist, but nvm).
One of the things I am the most excited to explore within this book is the historical political landscape of the American South. It is even said of Carter’s presidency that it was really important post-Vietnam to have a Southerner in a leadership position because “only the South knew what it was like to lose.”
No matter how frustrating I find the South sometimes, living here provides endless fascination to me. Oddly enough, sometimes it inspires a strange connection.
Southerners routinely describe constantly feeling like they are looked down upon by northern states, like northerners always act like they are smarter and tell the south how to live their lives. For better or for worse, its an accurate assumption. It’s extremely difficult for a southerner to feel superior to a northerner in just about anything, whether it is finances or education or social status. Southerners are seen as a population that is constantly ridiculed and made fun of and shamed. No matter what popular politics are down here, no matter what bigotry, I still feel that turn in my gut when I think about how viscerally some Americans absolutely hate the American South yet never want to even understand it.
That’s where Jimmy comes in and I’m excited to read this book because as a native from Plains, GA, he has some real issues he has to hash out with his colleagues about how they are letting their racism or their faith dictate suppression.
When I really think about it, one reason I feel this odd connection down here is because I truly felt like the bane of familial and low-key community existence growing up, too.
Quick picture: my mom was adopted by a well-to-do family. When she married my dad, a high-school educated man who went on to be a mechanic all of his life, her parents vehemently opposed. Every Christmas I remember going to my Grandma’s house and seeing the rest of my extended family–all of them wealthy, beautiful, and extensively educated. And I looked around at my nuclear family at those dinners–we’re all fat, have red hair, we’re broke as hell and don’t really know how to functionally climb out of it. There was always a sense of pity from my extended family and a sense of disconnect dominating those dinners and it makes my skin crawl to this day.
I remember once I was stoned in high school and a guy was dropping my best friend and I off at my house. I lived in that house all of my life. It was dilapidated and rusting and sprawled with remnants from all of my years. He pulled up to my sagging garage and said, “Man, your house is a real piece of shit.”
When I went inside with my best friend, I grabbed her shoulders and looked at her.
“My house really is a piece of shit. I’m a piece of shit.”
She chided me and told me I was being silly and to stop thinking about it, but I never, ever could.