WHEN Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, two former US presidents will be absent from the ceremony.

Earlier this month Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn announced they would not be attending due to health concerns. It marks the first time the couple, aged 96 and 93, will have missed the ceremonies since Carter was sworn in as the 39th president in 1977. His attendance at the last presidential inauguration in 2017, at the age of 92, made him the oldest ever former president to attend such an event and the first to live to the 40th anniversary of his own.

In March 2019 he gained the further distinction of being the nation's longest-lived president.

During his tenure, Jimmy Carter aspired to make government both “competent and compassionate” – aims which stand in contrast to the record of the most recent former president.

By the end of his four years in office, Jimmy Carter could claim an increase of nearly eight million jobs and a decrease in the budget deficit. However, with inflation and interest rates at near record highs, efforts to reduce them led to a recession.

Politically more damaging was the seizure as hostages of the US embassy staff in Iran which dominated the news during the last 14 months of the administration. The consequences of Iran holding Americans captive, together with continuing inflation at home, contributed to Carter’s defeat in 1980.

Yet it is Carter’s achievements since leaving office that have defined him more than any that took place during his time in office. Since leaving the presidency, he has remained engaged in political and social projects and has built a reputation as a philanthropist. Through both the Carter Centre and Habitat for Humanity, he has dedicated himself to finding peaceful solutions to international conflicts and to the promotion of economic and social development.

In recognition of that work, in 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Five years later, he joined with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and others as one of “The Elders” – a group of independent global leaders who work together on peace and human rights issues. Throughout this time he has continued to teach at his local Sunday School and served as a deacon at his local church.

In his Nobel lecture, delivered on receipt of the Peace Prize, Carter concluded his speech with comments then aimed at global conflict, but which now apply equally to his homeland: “The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes – and we must.”

Carter’s words could serve as a mandate for both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the years to come as they attempt to undo the damage wreaked upon their nation by a systematically incompetent response to Covid and a tribal politics that has divided the nation.

The other former president who will be absent from the inauguration will be Donald Trump.

L The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church in Durham