Friday, August 11, 2017

José Ferrão
2017 SUSI Scholar on Journalism and Media
Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Not far from Martin Luther King’s Memorial, in the middle of a beautiful and well-tended garden, American president Jimmy Carter has his Center and Library. In one of the buildings that comprise the set of modern concrete-and-glass facilities, a museum hosts a collection of papers, outfits, and personal items belonging to the best ex-president the United States ever had, according to many, and his beloved First Lady Rosalynn. A visit is worth taking, especially if you are interested in knowing what makes an American.

The ingredients you find as you go through a set of walled photograph panels with inscriptions that account for the various stages on the pilgrim president’s progress to social activism and, of course, power. From his childhood in Plains, Georgia, to world leaders’ palaces, Jimmy is the good guy who made it. What he simply did was to accomplish someone’s prophecy that once proclaimed: “Any schoolboy, even one of ours, might grow up to be president of the United States”. The wise words are those of a Woman of Achievement, as Miss Julia Coleman, Jimmy and Rosalynn’s teacher and school director, was entitled back in the 1930s. About four decades later, her pupil would take the oath of office.

But not without challenges and perils, for those make the spirit tougher and more prepared to go and get there. Carter’s odyssey started in the Navy, when he had to face one of the fiercest storms of Pacific Ocean history. No big deal for the Sunday school teacher of the officers’ children though. Back to Plains, with little money, Jimmy and Rosalynn overcame the hardships and “together they steadily expanded their [peanut farm] business and began to play a larger role in the community”, says the script on the wall. Then it was time for politics and with it came the “painful loss in his first race for governor”. No big deal again, for a bigger campaign would pay off later on: from being an almost unknown politician, Carter became the Democrats’ candidate who in the end made it to the White House, supported by the restless family and friends who took the race in their hands. A story that goes on to a mandate that inherited the wearing out of the Vietnam War, the discouragement brought to the nation by Watergate, the tension of the American hostage crisis in Iran and the difficult peace talks between Israel and Egypt at Camp David.

A path not strange to the faithful Rosalynn either, the First Lady with an agenda of her own. The “Independent Partner” soon got used to “attending [her husband’s] cabinet meetings to stay current on the nation’s business”. The photos on the panel dedicated to Rosalynn show Carter’s wife holding the hand of a small child being assisted by a doctor in what looks like a humanitarian campaign, and also a meeting in the Oval Office with the First Lady on par with the president’s political staff. Her dresses and jewelry displayed on a glass window testify of the simplicity and grace of a well-bred country young girl, which also accounts for the Carters’ protestant ascetic values.

A couple that also helped “made America great again”, although in a single one-term mandate. No big deal again. Their long-lasting work had barely started. Still to come was the fight against Guinea worm, river blindness and malaria, three of the poor world’s horrible diseases that would receive The Carter Center’s assistance. The saints have been marching in, now at a slower place though, as the old couple retired to their home in Plains. In Atlanta, their story continues to be told, a revealing narrative that outlines the hallmark of the American people: a folk commissioned by God to fight, overcome and achieve. This has always been so in the United States. The Carters are good metonymy of it all.  

No comments: