The all-consuming, camera-hungry, truth-starved era that fixated the nation and exposed its darkest recesses officially concludes at noon Wednesday. The President, addled and mostly friendless
, ended his time in the capital a few hours early to spare himself the humiliation of watching his successor be sworn in.
“We will be back in some form,” Trump told a modest crowd of supporters who gathered to see him off at Joint Base Andrews. “So have a good life. We will see you soon.”
As Air Force One lifted off for a final time with Trump aboard, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” blared in the background.
For his opponents, Trump’s departure amounts to a blissful lifting of a four-year pall on American life and the end to a tortured stretch of misconduct and indignities. Even many of Trump’s onetime supporters are sighing with relief that the White House, and the psychology of its occupant, may no longer rest at the center of the national conversation.
At least some of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump in November are sad to see him go. Scores of them attempted an insurrection at the US Capitol
this month to prevent it from happening at all. The less violent view him as a transformative President whose arrival heralded an end to political correctness and whose exit marks a return to special treatment for immigrants, gays and minorities.
One thing Trump’s presidency undoubtedly accomplished: revealing in stark fashion the racist, hate-filled, violent undercurrents of American society
that many had chosen previously to ignore. It became impossible to overlook as Trump’s presidency concluded with violent riots of White nationalists and neo-Nazis at the Capitol.
The violent mob attack on the citadel of American democracy capped a presidency built upon disregard for democratic norms, antagonizing government institutions and willful ignorance of the far right’s violent and racist tendencies. It will amount to the lasting legacy of a President whose blatant neglect of the truth
, in ways both casual and immense, drove the nation to the brink.
There is no evidence the President has reckoned with the consequences of his actions; the opposite appears to be true. He came to regret a concession video he had recorded at the urging of his family and advisers, who told him he was seriously close to being removed from office. In his first comments after the riot, he refused blame for it and insisted, falsely, that nobody believed his words ahead of it were at fault.
The events caused an already reclusive President, who had mostly given up running the country after losing the election, to retreat further. His near-silence was helped along by a permanent ban from Twitter, his long-preferred method of communication, a move that propelled him to rage.
He emerged for a final time on Wednesday, discarding tradition and boycotting his successor’s inauguration. Aides said he did not like the thought of leaving Washington an ex-president, nor did he relish the thought of requesting use of the presidential aircraft from Biden.
The ceremony was modest in scope, though it did include a red carpet, cordons of troops and a 21-gun salute. Before departing the White House, he offered a wave from his Marine One helicopter.
In a subdued, discursive speech on a windy tarmac, Trump made glancing references to his accomplishments in office but seemed bitter at his loss.
“I hope they don’t raise your taxes, but if they do, I told you so,” he said.
Aides had prepared a speech for the President that included references to the incoming administration and more gracious language about a peaceful transition, according to a person familiar with the matter.
But Trump discarded the speech, and teleprompters were removed from the stage before he arrived at Joint Base Andrews.
A person familiar with the matter said the decision was made after Trump read the remarks this morning at the White House.
“I wish the new administration good luck and great success,” Trump said. “I think they will have great success.”
He is expected to be ensconced in his South Florida club when he officially becomes an ex-president at noon.
Before he left, Trump did write the traditional handoff letter to Biden of the same type his predecessors wrote the men who replaced them. And he greeted residence staff at the White House who saw him off.
Trump is the first president in 150 years to stage such a boycott. While Pence will attend Biden’s swearing-in, other members of Trump’s family, including wife Melania and daughter Ivanka, will be absent. The decision is emblematic of a presidency animated by Trump’s highly fragile ego and run by officials whose chief concern was managing Trump’s feelings.
Freshly impeached for a second time, this time with support from a few Republicans, Trump ends his term with the lowest approval rating of his tenure. Republicans remain divided on whether he represents the future of their party. He’s been shunned by senior leaders in Congress, who were left aghast at his incitement of a mob that sent them running for safety inside the Capitol.
In his final days, Trump has been surrounded by a shrinking circle of associates, many of them decades younger. Old friends who used to speak with him regularly said they can no longer reach him — both literally, because he is refusing their calls, and figuratively, because those who are patched through describe a man lost in denial and detached from reality.
He even had a falling-out with his vice president, Mike Pence, whose characteristic fealty was severed after he heard nothing from Trump while mobs appeared to be hunting him during the insurrection attempt. The two men went for days without speaking after Trump uttered a vulgar curse because Pence refused to unilaterally overturn the election results.