While the Japanese use our calendar for practical purposes, they officially start a new era every time an emperor takes office. This is, for example, Heisei 29 in Japan, not 2017.
We do a version of the same thing. We talk of the “Clinton years,” or the “Bush years,” and even link cultural events to the reigns of our presidents, none of which last more than eight years. We talk about Reagan-era fashions, for example.
Well, we’re at the beginning of the Trump era.
Eight years ago today, when President Obama was first sworn in, much of the country was jubilant and filled with hope. I don’t think anyone would say that today. When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, he told us “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Today, many Americans are deeply afraid.
Last night, a retired newspaper editor in northern Michigan sent me this email:
“Just wondering what my friends are doing on this last night of our democratic republic. Tip of the hat to the founders. It was great while it lasted.”
A woman I know is insisting that no one in her family turn any television on today. I don’t remember anything like this before.
But I do remember a famous political cartoon from my youth.
The Washington Post’s Herbert Block, known as Herblock, was famous as early as the 1950s for his cartoons attacking Richard Nixon, who he always showed as a sinister figure with heavy brows and five o’clock shadow, frequently shown crawling out of a sewer.
But when Richard Nixon was finally elected President in 1968, after a comeback almost as implausible as this year’s election, Herblock drew a barber shop with a sign taped to the wall:
“This shop gives to every new President of the United States a free shave.”
That didn’t mean a free pass, but a clean slate.
Nixon, unfortunately, would prove Herblock was right all along. But other presidents have deeply surprised us in a good way. Harry Truman, who was seen as nothing more than a pawn of a corrupt political machine, became one of our greatest presidents.
Nobody could have believed Ronald Reagan would form a friendship and partnership with a Soviet leader to end the Cold War, but he did.
We have to be vigilant, but open minded. Those who, like my friend, are horrified that Donald Trump is now President, might reflect that he won despite the virtually universal opposition of the nation’s news media.
He carried 75 of Michigan’s 83 counties.
But Trump supporters need to remember that a large majority of those who voted last November – 54% – voted against him. Nobody has ever become president after losing the popular vote as decisively as he did.
Americans can emphatically change their minds, too. The first President Bush won 40 states the first time. He was crushed when he ran for reelection.
The country also turned on Jimmy Carter, who was almost as much as an outsider as Trump, and threw him out four years later.
What is certain is that we can’t afford not to pay attention, and we need to be involved. We are now living in very interesting times, and we need to be a part of what happens next.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.