ATLANTA — America’s political environment is at a low point comparable to the Civil War but “is bound to get better” following the November elections, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday.
The 91-year-old fielded questions from freshmen students for about an hour at Emory University in Atlanta, at the 35th annual town hall he’s led. Carter is a distinguished professor at the university, and the human rights organization he founded after leaving the White House is an affiliate of the school.
Asked how the November election will shape American politics, Carter responded: “I think it’s bound to get better.”
“I think as far as political affairs in America are concerned we are at, maybe, one of the all-time lows in our history,” Carter said. “Maybe just with the exception of the Civil War era when Americans were divided deeply in combat.”
Carter responded to more than a dozen questions submitted on paper or via Twitter, including queries on immigrants’ role in America, the presidential election and how much he slept while president. Students also asked what advice he’d give himself at 18 (stay out of politics, he responded cheekily) and the best advice he’s ever received (tell the truth).
When a student asked what advice he can give to first-time voters this fall, Carter jokingly said he considered responding “abstain.” But ultimately, he advised those who “want to be like me” to vote for Democrats.
“And if you want to be different from me, vote Republican,” he said, prompting applause.
Carter said he remains worried about the influence of wealthy political donors on campaigns and government and repeated his frequent criticism of the Supreme Court’s decision permitting unlimited spending by corporations. He also expressed concern about deep divisions in the country but said history shows those can be healed.
“We just have to remember that our country is resilient,” Carter said. “As I said earlier, we have always had down through history the ability when we make serious mistakes — like slavery or segregation years or refusing to let women have the right to vote — we’ve always had the ability to correct our mistakes.”