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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

Leubsdorf: Will Nov. 5, 2024 be another key date in history?

By Carl P. Leubsdorf
Published: March 16, 2024, 6:01am

With Donald Trump, everything is 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.”

Really?

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 U.S. history really are. The three above are candidates. Here are 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.
  • July 3, 1863, the decisive day in the 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. A day later, Confederate forces surrendered their last Mississippi River stronghold at Vicksburg, Miss. 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.
  • 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.
  • March 7, 1965, the Selma, Ala., civil rights march. A brutal assault by local and state police on 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 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.
  • Sept. 11, 2001, the day international terrorists struck New York City and Washington, D.C. The worst ever foreign-launched assault on the U.S. 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 U.S. Middle East military Involvement.
  • 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? 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.

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