As Obama used to say, presidents are part of a long-running story. Trump’s paragraph was nasty, brutish and short ‘Trump shuffled off the presidential stage, showing off his rather large personal collection of lies, big and small.’ Photograph: Al Drago/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock In so many ways it was all so gloriously, spectacularly, crushingly normal. The ceremonial rituals, the military band, the procession of dignitaries, the sprinkling of stars, and the entirely forgettable inaugural speech. But for the pandemic masks, the death toll of more than 400,000 Americans, and the small army to deter another white supremacist insurrection, the scenes on the west side of the Capitol were the first signs of a restoration of democracy that came perilously close to collapse. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr swore to protect and defend the constitution on a giant family Bible that was bigger than his home state of Delaware. It appeared helpful for crushing large insects and small insurrectionists. If anything survives in our collective memories of Biden’s speech, it will be the 46th president’s commitment to what used to be boilerplate language about the vital struggle to preserve democracy and rebuild something close to national unity. “Today we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause. The cause of democracy,” Biden began. “The people, the will of the people, has been heard, and the will of the people has been heeded. We’ve learned that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” It almost didn’t, of course. With a few more Republicans in the House, the will of the people would have been overturned. With a few fewer Republican state officials willing to stand up for free and fair elections, Biden’s autocratic predecessor would have been standing on that same spot. With a few more insurrectionists, several of those members of Congress seated on the Capitol steps might not have borne witness to history on Wednesday. Beyond defeating the pandemic, Biden called out three priorities that could never have emerged from the mouth of the man who promised, four years ago, to put America First. “A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer,” Biden promised. “A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism, that we must confront and we will defeat.” Inaugural speeches typically try and fail to reach for historic stature. The Biden administration does not need to reach for history when history has dumped one of its greatest piles of destruction on its doorstep. The man now at the center of it all is a true believer in the notion that all politics is personal. He is a tactile politician who touches everyone literally, figuratively and most often hyperbolically. Citing Abraham Lincoln at the signing of the emancipation proclamation, Biden said he was typically, characteristically, literally, all in. “Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation,” he said. “And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things.” At that point, the progressive wing of the Democratic party rolled its collective eyes towards the heavens. Meanwhile, the fascist wing of the Republican party prepared to use that unity line in every speech defending its attempts to divide the nation and destroy democracy. Still, that’s Joe Biden, and as the man likes to say: God love ya. “Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another,” he beseeched the nation and the members of Congress beside him. “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire, destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured.” Earlier on a cold January morning in the nation’s capital, a beleaguered world said good riddance to the raging fire of Trump’s presidency. It ended in a spasm of garbled thoughts, lies and language that represent the core character of the loser of last year’s election. Trump was always a caricature of the 1980s, trapped in an amber world where greed is still good, conspicuous consumption is always plated in gold, and the mix tape only plays totally inappropriate hits like YMCA. And so it came to pass that the colossal buffoon who pretended to be president for four years spoke to a miserably small crowd of blood relatives and paid help on the concrete at Joint Base Andrews. The TV pundits bravely suggested the scene resembled some campaign-like event, which would be true if the campaign was a jumble sale to repair a leaking roof. Trump shuffled off the presidential stage, showing off his rather large personal collection of lies, big and small. He pretended that his family had toiled in the White House rather than serve itself and watch TV (“People have no idea how hard this family worked”). He pretended that he respected his wife Melania, and that she was not in fact the least popular first lady on record. He fabricated once again his record of war veterans support. And he flat-out invented a performance on job creation that was the very worst since Herbert Hoover. “The job numbers have been absolutely incredible,” he declared, in ways that are indeed barely credible. He talked about a stock market that rose like “a rocket ship up” and he talked, confusingly, about vaccine numbers that would “really skyrocket downward”. A rocket ship that launched and crashed to earth may be the most honest, if least intended, self-description of the Trump era. Perhaps this was finally the day when Trump sounded like the president he was, just a few minutes before he was no longer president he wanted to be. “I wish the new administration great luck and great success,” said the man who wished a violent mob into storming the Capitol to deliver something other than great luck and success two weeks earlier. So farewell then, Donald Trump. Your predecessor, Barack Obama, liked to say that presidents are part of a long-running story. “We just try to get our paragraph right,” he said. Your paragraph was nasty, brutish and short. And you got it badly wrong.