The Korea Herald


[Carl P. Leubsdorf] Another key date in US history?

By Korea Herald

Published : March 15, 2024 - 05:31

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With Donald Trump, everything is often the biggest ever or the grandest ever. His political movement, he often proclaims, is the greatest in American history. And Nov. 5, when he hopes to regain the presidency, “will be the most important day in our nation’s history.”


Bigger than July 4, 1776? Or the day Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation? Or the day the Berlin Wall fell, marking the end of the Cold War and portending the collapse of the Soviet Union?

In any case, Trump’s elevation of an election day whose outcome we yet don’t know prompted me to think of what the most important days in US history really are. The three above are candidates. Here are a dozen more:

April 30, 1789, the day George Washington was inaugurated as our first president. Beginnings are important in setting tones and establishing norms. The presence of Washington and his deep faith in democracy set the tone for what the United States would become.

March 4, 1801, the first presidential transition with a change in parties. A compromise made Thomas Jefferson president and Aaron Burr vice president. But outgoing President John Adams was so distraught over his defeat (and his son’s recent death) that he left town at 4 a.m., the first president to skip his successor’s inauguration -- but not the last.

July 3, 1863, the decisive day in the Civil War battle of Gettysburg. On that day, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces failed to penetrate Union lines on Cemetery Ridge and were forced to retreat across the Potomac. A day later, Confederate forces surrendered their last Mississippi River stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The twin triumphs ensured the republic would survive the threat to its existence posed by Southern secession, the most serious threat of its first century.

March 4, 1933, the inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Becoming president as banks closed and millions were jobless, Roosevelt brought new hope to millions and stabilized the economy. His policies saved American democracy and transformed the country, though it took a war to fully complete the recovery.

Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the darkest days in American history became the catalyst for one of its greatest triumphs. The surprise attack galvanized the United States into entering World War II against both Japan and, days later, against Germany, guaranteeing the ultimate defeat of the imperial Japanese empire and Adolf Hitler’s murderous Nazi regime.

May 17, 1954, the day the Supreme Court banned public school segregation. The ruling that separate schools are not equal -- and subsequent civil rights rulings -- were slow in coming. In many cases, public demonstrations led by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were required to force legal, congressional or judicial action. But they transformed the country’s racial laws and practices.

March 7, 1965, the Selma, Alabama, civil rights march. The brutal assault by local and state police on the hundreds of demonstrators marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in support of voting rights horrified the nation and inspired President Lyndon B. Johnson to seek and pass the landmark federal legislation protecting and expanding the right to vote. Recent efforts to restrict it can’t obscure its importance and long-term impact.

Nov. 4, 1980, the election of Ronald Reagan. Along with the Republican capture of the Senate after 26 years, it marked the end of the era of expansive government launched by FDR’s New Deal, codified by Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency and expanded again by Johnson’s Great Society. Ever since, the two parties and opposing ideological forces have battled at relative parity.

April 30, 1993, the day the World Wide Web came online. Nothing exemplifies the communications revolution of the late 20th and 21st centuries more than the Internet, which has transformed how the world gets its news, does it business and runs its governments.

Sept. 11, 2001, the day international terrorists struck New York City and Washington. The worst ever foreign-launched assault on the US mainland inspired President George W. Bush to mobilize Americans and allies against the global terrorist movement. But he overreached when he expanded the war in Afghanistan to Iraq, setting off a disastrous two-decade US Middle East military involvement.

Nov. 8, 2016, the day Donald Trump was elected president. His victory was something of a political fluke, caused as much by rival Democrat Hillary Clinton’s failures as his appeal to dissatisfied millions. It brought some of the most negative elements in American society out of the shadows and empowered them as allies of the chaos-producing president.

Jan. 6, 2021, the day domestic terrorists inspired by Trump’s refusal to accept his election defeat launched the greatest threat to the nation’s stability since the Civil War, overrunning the Capitol in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election. Just as peaceful transitions helped establish the United States, Trump’s refusal to accept one threatened its stability.

Will Nov. 5, 2024, join that list -- or even surmount it? It could, but possibly not in the way Trump intends. What will give Nov. 5, 2024, its greatest historical importance is if the voters deal Trump and his followers the kind of overdue electoral defeat that will end the threat to democratic government from his threats of retribution, enhanced presidential power and international isolation.

Carl P. Leubsdorf

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)