Jimmy Carter vs. Donald Trump

Two very different Americas.

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 11.31.01 AMA segment last night on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell begins with a clip from former President Jimmy Carter‘s inaugural address.

“Your strength can compensate for my weakness,” Carter says, “and your wisdom can help to minimize my mistakes.”

As soon as the last “s” in “mistakes,” is spoken, we cut to a clip of Donald Trump addressing an audience, saying, “I went to the Wharton School of Finance, you know, like, like really smart people go to the Wharton School of Finance, I will tell you,” a reference he has invoked more than once during his run for the GOP nomination.

“It took 38 years,” says host Lawrence O’Donnell after the clip has run its course, “to go from Jimmy Carter’s inaugural address, marked by humility and decency, to a frontrunnner for presidential nomination who has no humility and virtually no decency.”

Carter’s expanded media footprint has been due, unfortunately, to his recent announcement that a cancer found first in his liver has spread to his brain. In a press conference at the Carter Center yesterday in which Carter described his course of treatment and immediate future, his poise and grace reminded many of the large chasms that can exist between politicians, born not out of ideology, but out of the different ways of being in the world.

O’Donnell invited Walter Shapiro, a former Carter speechwriter, current Brennan Center fellow, to illustrate this point. O’Donnell referenced a tweet written by Shapiro yesterday in response to Carter’s speech.

On the show, Shapiro elaborated further. “Jimmy Carter, when he ran in 1976, promised the American people a government as good as its people,” he said. “The way Donald Trump is running, he is promising the American people a government as good as the worst elements, and as shallow as the worst elements of the American people.”

Those “worst elements” showed themselves in Boston Wednesday, when, after two brothers were arrested for viciously beating a homeless, apparently Hispanic man, one of the brothers reportedly told police, by way of explaining his actions, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

Trump, when he was told about the incident replied, “It would be a shame, but I haven’t heard about that.” He didn’t stop there. “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.

There is a choice to be made here, not just of whose policies hold the most appeal, but of the type of person the American people wish to represent them. Of what, exactly, it means, for a country to be great.