July 2018

Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump have something in common. Although fans and critics of each of them might find the notion repugnant, this column’s commitment to journalistic integrity requires that this truth be published, however inconvenient some alert readers (ARs) might find it.  Here it is: Both Carter and Trump held the office of President during a high-profile international athletic competition in Russia in which the United States did not participate.

In Trump’s case,  he didn’t have much choice.  The United States didn’t send a team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup because the U. S. team failed to qualify.  Apparently, his campaign pledge to make America great again did not apply to soccer.  In Carter’s case, the United States didn’t send a team to the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow because Carter wanted to punish the Soviets for invading Afghanistan. He also tried to punish them further by imposing an embargo on the sale of American grain to the USSR. Whether this embargo had the desired impact on the Soviet Union is debatable. What is not debatable is that the embargo infuriated American farmers, who saw their incomes plummet as a result.

Brought down by hemp?

Up until the embargo farmers had had high expectations for Jimmy Carter as one of them.  His family had been farmers in Georgia for several generations. Actually, in the interest of accuracy, that statement needs some clarification. Prior to 1865, most of the farming was in fact done by slaves owned by Carter’s ancestors.  Some of these same ancestors served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. In 1978, 113 years after the end of the Civil War, Jimmy Carter signed the legislation that posthumously restored the U.S. citizenship of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy.

While it took 113 years for Carter to sign the legislation restoring Davis’s citizenship, it took almost as long—105 years—for Trump to pardon Jack Johnson, the African-American boxer who was convicted in 1913 of violating the Mann Act because of his relationship with a white woman. I  suspect that most ARs are already somewhat familiar with the story of Jack Johnson. They may not, however, be familiar with the version as sung by Jaime Brockett in his 1968 ballad Legend of the USS Titanic.

As a disclaimer, I want to note that Brockett exercised a great deal of artistic license.  For example, the Titanic  was British (RMS Titanic) not American (USS Titanic).  It sailed from Southampton in 1912, not from Boston in 1913.  There’s also no reason to believe Jack Johnson ever tried to board the Titanic and was prevented from doing so because of his race: “this ship don’t haul no coal.” (This line was borrowed from the African-American singer  Leadbelly,  who had sung something similar in  The Titanic, ”Captain Smith hollered, ‘I ain’t haulin’ no coal.’”)

Brockett’s song also says that the Titanic sailed years before “the Wright Brothers started foolin’ around with Kitty Hawk” (it actually sailed nine years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight). When told about Kitty Hawk, Jack Johnson supposedly asked  “Who’s she?”  On this point I want to say for the record that Kitty Hawk was not the name of Eric Greitens’ paramour, which journalistic integrity prevents me from publishing.

There’s also no historical basis of which I’m aware for the claim in Brockett’s song that the first mate of the Titanic brought along 497 ½ feet of rope made from hemp with a high concentration of THC.  The first mate purportedly shared some of his stash with the captain of the Titanic,  who took a few puffs, grabbed the wheel, looked at an iceberg and uttered the memorable words, “I’m gonna move you, baby!”  As everyone now knows, the iceberg didn’t move and the Titanic  went down.

(I would urge all ARs not simply to rely on my account of Brockett’s song, but to watch it for themselves.

It tells the story much better than this column could ever hope to do.  ARs in Colorado and other jurisdictions where marijuana is legal might find this version particularly engaging.)

It’s probably fair to say that  Legend of the USS Titanic  does not present the best argument for legalizing marijuana. (Smoking this potent weed will cause you to run a ship into an iceberg.)  Ten years after the song was released, however, another long-standing taboo was ended by legalization.  In 1978 (the year in which Jefferson Davis’s citizenship was restored) Jimmy Carter signed the legislation that legalized brewing beer at home. This was an important milestone that, in the minds of many, started the craft beer revolution in America. Among Carter’s acts as President this was and is much more popular than his embargo on sales of grain to the Soviet Union.

Tom Schlafly

Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery