And so he is gone. Jumping into a helicopter at the end of the horror movie and ominously promising reporters, “We will be back in some form,” The Donald took his family and departed for Florida a few hours before his opponent was sworn in as 46th president of the United States. “Have a good life,” he added, in the friendly way someone might tell you that you have a beautiful family and it would be a terrible shame if anything happened to them.
Hours before, 25,000 National Guard troops had descended on DC. Razor wire and extra sheets of bulletproof glass were erected to protect the participants in the handover of power to Joe Biden. We thought the coronavirus was going to be the biggest danger to everyone gathering there today, but I guess, like an after-school special on Sesame Street, we should’ve remembered the virus was inside us all along.
Everyone who’s anyone was at the ceremony proper. There was Hillary and Bill, Bill’s nose hanging out of his face covering, because of course. There were the Obamas, immaculate as usual. George W Bush wandered in with an American flag mask and waved a leather-gloved hand when he saw Barack and Michelle. Mike Pence came in as proxy for his petulant running-mate, holding his wife Karen’s hand as if he was an alien who recently arrived on Earth and only read the theory book on human behavior.
Perhaps most gloriously, Bernie Sanders arrived amid a sea of thousand-dollar coats and expensive suits and dresses in his puffy grey-brown jacket, a regulation medical mask and a pair of hand-knitted mittens. He sat with mittens displayed and legs half-crossed, watching the proceedings with studied suspicion, as his signature unruly hair wisped delicately in the wind.
Though Biden worked to make sure his own speech was reassuringly boring – because after the past four years, “Grandad Who Loves America" is what everyone wants, including me – there was some shade thrown toward the prematurely departed 45th president. “President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, Vice President Pence,” Biden said in welcome, before adding that President Carter “couldn’t be here today” due to health reasons but had sent his best wishes. “I thank my predecessors of both parties who are here today,” he added later.
Watch: Joe Biden becomes America's 46th president, declaring: 'Democracy has prevailed'
Trump didn’t feature once in any words spoken by officials, including Biden, during the ceremony, which of course was the only way to really and truly infuriate him. However, his spectre was there when Biden spoke of a “rise of political extremism and white supremacy” which “we will defeat”; it was there when he said it was time to “stop the shouting and lower the temperature”; and when he added that “politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path”.
Most obviously, it was there when Biden said we must “reject a culture where facts themselves are manipulated or manufactured” because “there is truth and there are lies” and “each of us have a responsibility, especially as leaders, to defend the truth and defeat the lies”. Throughout this long repudiation of alternative facts, there was applause from almost everyone present – except for Pence, who kept his alien hands politely yet firmly placed in his lap.
There were so many moments of joy today: Kamala Harris’s double fist-bump to Biden after her swearing-in; Joe and Dr Jill Biden’s surprisingly passionate embrace; Lady Gaga resplendent in a red skirt so large a Marine had to all but carry her down the stairs; J-Lo in incredible white, 51 years old and looking better than most teenagers do after four years of Donald Trump (has she been living in an isolation chamber, perfectly poised, where no news, however horrifying, can reach? And if so, how do I get one?); a photo that went viral on social media of one single pro-Trump protester standing with a flag outside the New York State Capitol in Albany, complaining that he’d driven 45 minutes for a peaceful protest and no one else had turned up.
And yes, even the fact that Pence and his fellow Republicans turned up was a cause for joy, baseline expectation as it should be. The fact that nobody got hurt was a joy. The fact that the 1776 commission, which distorted the history of slavery, was taken immediately off the White House website was a joy. The fact that we didn’t have to watch Trump try and steal the show was a joy. The fact that Biden’s Twitter immediately renamed itself “President Biden” and opened with the tweet: “Folks – this will be the account for my official duties as president,” was a joy. The fact that we couldn’t see what Donald Trump was thinking was a joy, and most of all, it was a joy to see the only tweet Donald Trump Jr could bring himself to do all day, a retweet about his local ice hockey team: “Congrats Mike Kramer. The city of Portland is lucky to have you continue their tradition of ice excellence.”
I like to think of that tweet as a secret message. Congrats indeed.
Watch: What does a Joe Biden presidency in the US mean for the global economy?