OP-ED: The Trump era: Time flies when you're not having fun

Scott Martelle
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Former President Donald Trump looks out his window as his motorcade drives through West Palm Beach, Fla., on his way to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach after arriving from Washington aboard Air Force One on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post via AP)

You know, when it comes right down to it, it's been a fast four years.

It feels like just a few months ago that we were lied to about the size of the crowd on the National Mall to celebrate Donald Trump's inauguration.

And it feels like just months ago that people from Muslim-majority countries with valid visas were barred entry to the U.S., drawing thousands of protesters to Los Angeles International and other airports.

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And that Trump supporters were still upset that Hillary Clinton had called them "deplorables" (that was before they obeyed their Supreme Leader and overran the Capitol).

But really, it's a been a long flipping four years.

Moments can be hard to place into context when you're living through them. And given the acrimony that has defined the Trump era — if it's even over — we're going to need some time to get a clear-eyed assessment of what Trump hath wrought: the bad, the not so bad and the ever-so-rarely good.

We have been forced to recognize the thick threads of overt racism that are part of our national fabric. We have watched international perceptions of the nation tarnish in real time.

We have seen the effects of undermining democratic institutions (lack of trust in the courts will echo for years) as well as the basic bureaucracy of the federal government.

By extension we have witnessed the fragility of our own democracy — and learned that the system itself carries the seeds of its destruction.

What happens when the people elect a leader bent on undermining democracy? What happens when lies become accepted truth by a wide portion of the electorate? What happens when the entire nation seems to need family counseling to keep it together?

Incoming President Joe Biden doesn't have much of a mandate. In an election that was more about the incumbent than it was about him, his party lost seats in the House of Representatives and won the narrowest of advantages in the Senate — a 50-50 split that will require incoming Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties.

So this isn't a fresh presidency blown in by the winds of change so much as a president elected as the last Democrat standing against a remarkably divisive incumbent who, despite his unpopularity, still won more than 74 million votes, expanding on the 63 million votes he received four years earlier.

So on Wednesday the U.S. government reset, but the nation — divided by self-definition, by region, by culture, even by what it considers to be a fact — does not.

It could be a long four years.

— Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and author of six history books, is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.