I deliberately posted my farewell to….what’s his name again? I’ve already forgotten. Anyway, that last guy. I deliberately posted my farewell to him on Tuesday, before the Inauguration, because Wednesday belonged to President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala Devi Harris.
Don’t worry, I’ll get back to hating on He Who Must Not Be Named shortly. Sadly, we’re not done with him, not by a long shot. But for now, let’s revel in our welcome return to sanity.
I don’t mean to romanticize these figures, Joe and Kamala. They are not superhuman, nor perfect, nor will they solve all our problems by mere dint of their arrival. But as I wrote earlier this week in that farewell to their ghastly predecessors, they are competent, decent, empathetic human beings and it is a massive relief—and an unfamiliar feeling—to have people like that in charge again.
WALKING PROUDLY IN OUR WINTER COATS
I was stunned at how quickly Tr--p left my headspace….almost as soon as Marine One powered up and flew off the White House lawn, taking out the trash. I hope that is a harbinger of a nationwide psychological phenomenon.
The rest of the day was a blur, full of poignant moments. I’m not ashamed to say I choked up more than once, again surprising myself. I guess I’m a much more sentimental SOB than I like to think, or perhaps just more wrenched than I understood.
A brief survey of the highlights:
· Amanda Gorman, instant rock star.
· An inaugural address that didn’t sound like the monologue that a Bond villain recites to Sean Connery before trying to laser beam his testicles off.
· The stagecraft. Whoever managed it deserves an Emmy. The idea of 400,000 US flags to represent the victims of the pandemic, standing in for the live audience who could not be there—the federal government’s first expression of communal grief at this national tragedy—was a masterstroke. Inevitably, it also recalled in macabre counterpoint the opening gambit of the last regime, Sean Spicer’s laughable/chilling lie that his boss’s Inaugural crowd was the biggest ever. (Factcheck: Not even close.)
· Three of the four living Ex-Presidents all in one place (save for Jimmy Carter, who was too frail to travel), and not including the soon-to-be ex who ain’t invited into the club
· A bunch of Broadway all-stars ripping out the scorching finale to “Hair.”
· A Zen-like Hillary Clinton, in what must have been a bittersweet moment for her, both revisiting her crushing disappointment, and reveling in the vindication that she was right as right can be all along.
· Lady Gaga. After all the absurd racist controversy surrounding the national anthem over the past few years, how moving was it to see Gaga—with her instinctive, brilliant sense of theater—turn to the Stars & Stripes at exactly the right moment in the song, just two weeks after a violent mob of right wing insurrectionists tried to overthrow the US government, and sing: "Our flag was still there," lyrics written after the last time the US Capitol was attacked?
(And bonus: I know MAGA Nation fucking hated it.)
· Speaking of MAGA Nation, I am confident that it set its collective hair on fire over a Woody Guthrie song being sung at the Inauguration, with a dollop of Spanish to boot.
· Enough purple to make Prince smile down from Heaven.
So yes, it was the best Super Bowl halftime show ever, even with the ghostly streets of Washington lined with police barricades and concertina wire and 25,000 DC National Guardsmen in full battle rattle. And we all know who’s to blame for that.
Of course, I am leaving out the most moving and important moments of the day: when the first woman, Black person, and South Asian person of either sex was sworn in as Vice President, and when a reasonable, qualified, sane human being—the most politically experienced and qualified candidate to ascend to the Presidency ever, in fact, whatever else you think of him—was sworn in as President, taking over from his polar opposite.
It was the first inauguration in my lifetime that I really appreciated the significance of that transfer of power, having come so close to losing our democratic form of government twice in the past couple of months: lately, in a violent attempt to nullify the election, but also on Election Day itself, given that a Trump victory would have spelled the end of American democracy as we know it just as much as the violent mob of January 6, had it succeeded.
Or perhaps we can view those two events as merely related battles in a single campaign. After the election, I put out a piece called “How We (Narrowly) Avoided a Coup” (November 9, 2020), referring to Trump’s failed attempts to delegitimize the vote, fended off at the polls by Biden’s undeniable numbers and the integrity of stalwart election officials at the local level. At the time I didn’t know that there was another, much more violent phase of the coup yet to come. We avoided that disaster in an equally narrow escape, and it’s not at all clear that we’ll be so lucky next time.
DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH
During the Inauguration, it was a relief to see at least the pretense of old school, pre-Tr—p (or maybe pre-Gingrich) bipartisan civility, with McConnell and McCarthy attending mass with the Bidens, and going through the usual protocols with their Democratic counterparts, shaking hands and being collegial and all that.
That said, I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Same goes for the rest of sentient America.
When it comes to civility, that word “pretense” is operative. The GOP gets no credit for going through these motions, which are less a matter of contrition or expression of decency going forward than they are merely performative, part of their effort to induce collective amnesia. Already Republicans are trying to convince us that they comprise a reasonable political party that didn’t just violently try to seize power, or spent the last four years abetting a neo-fascist kakistorcracy that almost burned America to the ground.
Nice try, fellas.
President Biden of course will soon face gale force howling hypocrisy from that same Republican cabal. If you want a preview—and a good laugh—read conservative WaPo columnist Marc Thiessen’s new piece suggesting three things Biden can do to help achieve “unity.”
They are (not in this order, and I swear this is not satire):
1. Find a big project to do that the GOP will like
2. Drop the impeachment of Trump, and
3. Be nice to the GOP and give them a lot of what they want, because "unity requires compromise….you can’t restore unity while trampling the rights of the minority at the same time. If (Biden) wants to restore unity, he and fellow Democrats will have to moderate their demands, agree to some Republican priorities and sometimes accept ‘no' for an answer.”
Yeah, you know, the way the Republican Party under Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump were so generous and accommodating to the Democrats.
I’m surprised that guys like Thiessen don’t have big long ZZ Top beards, because I don’t know how they can look at themselves in the mirror to shave, nor why a major newspaper like the Post gives column inches to this drivel.
PARDON IS SUCH SWEET SORROW
Thiessen’s fishwrapping is but one of the reminders that we will be dealing with the rancid detritus of the Tr--p era for some time to come.
It emerged yesterday that one of the senior generals in the room at the Pentagon as the decision was made not to send the National Guard (let alone active duty US military) to protect the Capitol from domestic terrorists was Lieutenant General Charlie Flynn, Mike Flynn's brother, and the DCSOPS for the entire US Army—that is, deputy chief of staff for operations, the equivalent of the most senior G3 in the entire service branch. (The 3 being the preeminent officer on any military staff.)
To be clear: Flynn would not have been the decision-maker in a situation like that, but he definitely would have been involved in that decision-making, as the senior staff member in charge of advising the Army Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Army on operational matters, and responsible for planning and executing them.
Like stopping insurrectionists from overthrowing the government.
To be clear once again: we have no evidence that General Flynn shares the views of his disgraced older brother, himself a retired three-star and convicted (and pardoned) felon who "publicly suggested that President Donald Trump declare martial law and have the US military oversee a redo of the election.” But it’s not a great look that he was part of the mechanism by which military assistance to repel the attack on the Capitol was rejected….especially when you ask yourself why, for days, the Army denied that he was even in the room for the call, until forced to admit it had been lying.
As DCSOPS, Flynn had good reason to be in the room. There was no need to lie and say he wasn’t.
Unless there was. And thanks to the Army’s actions, we are left wondering.
Speaking of pardons, in December I predicted that Tr--p would try to self-pardon but apparently he didn’t (nor pardon his kids, nor Giuliani, both of which I also expected). That is, unless there was a double secret dog dare pardon, as Lawrence O’Donnell has repeatedly speculated. We shall see, if and when Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Justice Department brings federal charges.
Not sure that’s gonna play. “Oh, obstruction of justice? Sorry—I pardoned myself before I left office. Did I forget to mention that?” I doubt he’ll get five Supreme Court justices to sign off on that, though I am sure he will get two. (What does it say that the worst two SCOTUS justices aren’t even Tr--mp appointees?)
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (ADJACENT)
As the past four years of this blog will attest, I didn’t like the 45th president of the United States. But during his pathetic farewell at Andrews Air Force Base (I can’t bear to call it JBA), the disgraced soon-to-be private citizen did have one moment of vulnerability, and that very much shocked me. It was when, amid the rest of the ad libbed, characteristically megalomaniacal bullshit, he said almost wistfully, “I did my best.” (Or words to that effect. I don’t want to go back and watch it again to get it verbatim.)
On one level, I was merely appalled. That was your best? Yikes.
But on another level, I did glimpse in him, for just a moment, a flicker of sadness. Not—without getting into a debate about free will—anything close to something that would excuse or forgive or even mitigate in any way his vast transgressions. But a moment of pathos nonetheless.
For truly he is a pathetic human being. How must it feel to have the whole world dance in the streets at your defeat? To have to beg or force your underlings to attend your grubby little goodbye, and then watch the bulk of the country, and the kind of A-list celebrities whose company you crave, mount a nationally televised party (with fireworks!) for your opponent. All this miserable excuse for a human being has wanted his whole life is that sort of love and affection, the kind of love that he never got from daddy. It’s ironic, n’est-ce pas?
Of course, the lesson is, if you want love and affection, don’t be a fucking monstrous, racist, misogynist, sadistic, piece of shit asshole.
TEAR DOWN THIS WALL
So now “The Trump Show” has been canceled. Catch the re-runs on Fox. (I’ll use his name here only in the interest of the joke.) For the rest of us, we now return to our regular pre-2015 programming, the kind that was not managed by a group of rabid chimpanzees who had taken over the broadcast booth.
During Watergate, in February 1974, Garry Trudeau published a famous Doonesbury strip showing the White House and transcripts of the Nixon tapes (“I want you all to stonewall it”) behind a wall that bricklayers were building brick by brick, until in the final panel it obscured the entire strip. (He reprised it for Tr—p’s threatening call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger this past December.)
When Nixon resigned, Trudeau ran a bookend strip that had no text, only workers dismantling that wall until it revealed the White House with the sun shining down on it once again.
That’s how I feel right now.
I have already experienced some snickering ridicule from right-of-center friends over the kind of optimism many of us feel surrounding the new administration. That strikes me as deeply cynical and destructive. But I don’t care—I remain optimistic nonetheless.
The past 11 weeks have seen at least four dates that are destined to go down in history: November 3rd, which was Election Night; November 7th, when the major news organizations called the election for Biden and spontaneous celebrations in the street broke out all over the world; January 6th, when Tr--p’s attempt at a self-coup climaxed in the assault on the Capitol; and this past Wednesday January 20th, when Tr--p finally departed, Biden was sworn in, and a new day dawned.
I am still shaking my head that my young daughter, who is not yet ten, lived through such momentous events.
The road ahead remains immensely difficult. But at least we are on the right road, not the highway to hell, autobahn to nowhere, or waterslide to madness that we’ve been stuck on for the past four years.
Now let’s get to work.
Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP
For more essays, go to The King’s Necktie Archive.