Three of our presidents are at the top of our newscasts at the same time for their actions rather than their words.
They are three presidents with public flaws and political problems, but a trio whose exploits are giving us a moment for quite discordant, simultaneous sets of values.
The images with which they leave us speak of their choices, of course, but also reflect something of how we look at our leadership for a reflection of what we want to see.
Joe Biden reflected certain personal courage to enter a war zone without U.S. soldiers surrounding him, a surprising act of supportive national loyalty to Ukrainians at war — strolling shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky through the streets of Kyiv amid air raid sirens from the now constant danger of Russian missiles. The press coverage of quiet bravery reflected a move that buoyed U.S. commitments and re-asserted U.S. leadership, while undercutting Russian leader Vladimir Putin – and that likely boosted his own flagging political polling. The expected Republican criticism for visiting Kyiv before East Palestine, Ohio, site of a toxic accident, seemed petty and a reach; why can’t he do both?
From his Mar-a-Lago resort, Donald Trump, the former and would-be, was busily filling his private Truth Social feed with self-serving screeds that attacked former friends and allies, Fox News personalities, Biden, Democrats and RINO Republicans alike – anyone with a word of caution about his continuing campaign to overthrow the democracy he wants to lead. He says Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine has brought World War III near our doorstep. His actions had an odor of desperation as multiple criminal investigations are crashing towards him. Political focus groups are reflecting “hesitation and ambiguity” for a return of Trump even among his supporters, reported The Washington Post. The idea that a third of the country or more still want to vote for Trump as he faces multiple indictments continues to astound.
And in Plains, Ga., the not-enough-esteemed Jimmy Carter proudly and quietly prepared to die, leaving medical treatment for hospice care only. He is a figure whose presidency ended in crisis, but whose post-presidency was dedicated to those who need shelter and support. Through the Carter Center in Atlanta, he is now best remembered for international peace efforts that dwarf the political buzzsaw he ran into in Washington. A biographer noted in a New York Times essay that Carter allowed only 50 minutes discussion about his presidency in a discussion of his life hopes of leaving a better world. Carter’s personal commitment to rectitude and optimism will outlive his politics. I got to meet Carter twice and was taken both times with his intelligence, humility and the power to turn a conversation into a learning experience.
A time capture of three moments shimmers with its multiple facets.