In 1951, the year I was born, Harry S. Truman was the 33rd president of the United States. Obviously, I couldn’t vote for him. Then in 1953, the people elected Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower as number 34 and again, I was too young to vote, of course, but he was the first president that I can actually remember. This week was the election of our 46th president of the United States and the world watched another historical and extremely unique process. This time, as in the last nine elections, I did get to vote!
The office of the President of the United States (POTUS) was established in 1789 and the first, George Washington, won the only unanimous vote of the Electoral College. That has never happened again. The shortest presidency lasted only 31 days, giving that sad honor to William H. Harrison who died in 1841, and the longest was Franklin D. Roosevelt who served over twelve years, before dying early in his fourth term in 1945. The only U.S. president to have served more than two terms that changed with the ratification of the 22 amendment to the Constitution in 1951. It states that no person may be elected president more than twice, and no one who has served more than two years of a term in which someone else was elected may be reelected more than once. Grover Cleveland’s historical legacy was being the only president who served two non-consecutive terms in office and is counted as the 22nd and 24th leader of our nation.
The first POTUS that had an impact on me was John F. Kennedy. The youngest, age 43, and first Catholic President to be elected, Kennedy had a charisma like no other. I was 9 years old when he was sworn into office with his beautiful wife, Jackie, by his side in January 1961. We called his time in office Camelot and the country was in love with both of them, as least I was. His assassination in 1963 left our nation devastated at the loss of not only such a young man but the brutal destruction of hope. I was in Mr. Berzon’s Spanish class when they announced he was shot in Dallas. We were ushered outside as we waited for parents to pick us up, bring us home and try to make sense of what just happened. Walter Cronkite famously announced his passing that evening on the news and lives were forever changed.
Through my almost seven decades, I have seen the good and the not so good. We have always survived and moved on when things were not the easiest. President Richard M. Nixon was not high on the list of the best, of course, and resigned the office after the Watergate scandal left him little choice. I was glued to the television during those hearings, mesmerized by the history I was witnessing. Who will ever forget him getting on that helicopter with his two arms up in the air with peace signs as he boarded and said farewell? No president was perfect and not everyone agreed with all of the policies but there certainly were some that were regarded a heck of a lot better than Nixon.
The history of our country and the leaders we have had always fascinated me. Not the greatest student, I excelled in history because of that fascination and the fact that I had a wonderful teacher made it even more enjoyable. Every president had their own stories, accomplishments and, yes, mistakes that have been chronicled and archived for history buffs like me to enjoy.
This week we learned the result of our current election. The stressful and endless days of counting the ballots had everyone on the edge of their seats as well as the edge or end of our wits. While some were quite pleased with the final decision, others were gravely disappointed. I get it as I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes when I can. With a very high-stakes process like a presidential election, someone wins and someone loses. That’s how it’s been for over 220 years in our country, and so far, it seems to have worked out. We are a democracy.
Now it’s time to hopefully blend our differences into a common ground of healing, concentrate on the move toward an answer to the COVID-19 crisis and all the peripheral affects it has had on all of us. We are a strong and resilient country and history will be a lot kinder if we work together. Stay diligent, safe and well. I wish us all peace.
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at email@example.com.