3:00 AM, Inauguration Day
There was something about watching those long lines of glowing rectangles light up, like a phalanx of internally illuminated headstones. There were so many, far more than intuitively seemed possible, given that every one of them was standing in for a thousand souls; four hundred lights in all, shining upon the smooth surface of the water that stretched toward the Washington monument, growing brighter as the Sun went down. The mirror image in the reflecting pool made it seem as if there were even more of them, and though I’ve been keeping count like everybody else, updating myself daily on the casualty lists both here in Canada and there in America, I was reminded of the line from The Waste Land, quoting Dante: I had not realized death had undone so many. I had, but I hadn’t.
If this keeps up, COVID may finally take almost as many American lives as the Civil War, or World War II, and far faster than either.
This evening, it was as if Biden was already president. On the eve of the Inauguration, Trump seems already to have gone. Not quite. He’s apparently going to stage a little farewell party for himself this morning at Andrews AFB, with several hundred military personnel in compelled attendance, augmenting what I hope will be the vanishingly small number of those who choose to attend of their own free will in response to the frantic mass email that went out to half the country, pleading with the recipients to please come, and to each please bring along five additional friends. They say even Bolton got one. I hope it’s a pitiful, farcical affair. I hope he gives an incoherent speech full of inarticulate lies and self-centred grievance while those few who’re standing on the tarmac stifle their laughter – or don’t. I hope he trips and busts open his lip on his way up the stairs to take his last ride on Air Force One.
A sentiment like good riddance hardly feels sufficient, but I guess there’s less emotional impetus, now, to resort to the usual expletives. It’s over. I know, I know – it’s hard to believe. Trust me! You’re awake, and this is blessedly real.
It’s amazing to realize, now that he’s finally done, that Trump’s miserable tenure was actually more disgraceful and disastrous than people like me were predicting, or even had the imagination to fear. That was going to be the theme of what would probably have been an awfully lengthy post, when I started out tonight, something along the lines of What Was Promised/What Was Delivered, like Paul Krugman has done intermittently at the Times. Along the way I was going to catalogue, in some detail, the many aspects of the wreckage left wallowing in Donald’s wake, likely broken down by category, perhaps even in alphabetical order, beginning with Armed Forces and proceeding through Civil Society, Domestic Terrorism, Environment, International Relations and so on through to Rule of Law. All systematic and such.
But on second thought, why bother? It’d be an awfully big job, and anyway it’s no longer worth the effort, really, to lay it all out, or compare the myriad ludicrous promises to actual results. It even feels a little trite at this point, a little easy to contrast, say, today’s death toll with the theme of Donald’s godawful inauguration speech, when he mouthed the appalling sentiments of execrable troll and wannabe SS-Obergruppenführer Stephen Miller in declaring that “American carnage stops now”. Not that it wouldn’t be satisfying. I’m sure it’d be quite cathartic to go through them all one by one, debunking the hundreds upon hundreds of shiny bogus pledges, all of them implausible from the get-go, yet all as convincing as only a consummate huckster could have made them. Lord knows there’s plenty that merit a good rant, like how he was going to build endless border walls that Mexico would pay for, or bring back coal, steel and manufacturing, or eliminate the deficit, while whipping China into line on trade, replacing Obamacare with something better, growing the economy by leaps and bounds, putting America first among nations, and winning, winning, winning, always winning until the rubes were sick of winning, bla-dee-bla-dee-bla, yakkity yakkity. You could run with it for hours, and it might be fun, in a perverse sort of way, to pick it all apart in detail. Somebody will somewhere, I’m sure.
Yet surely, nobody who might read this needs me to flog the horse much more thoroughly to death. You all know. You all remember. You don’t need me to be fact-checking. You can be spared the familiar details. Unless you’re one of Tucker Carlson’s brainwashed brainstems, it’s patently obvious that by every conceivable measure America was, by the time Trump was claiming victory in the election he most decidedly lost, far worse off than he found it, its economy in tatters, its government gutted, its finances in shambles, its influence and reputation abroad perhaps permanently diminished, its power waning, its democracy teetering in a polarized society riven with hatreds and ugly passions he bent every sinew to stoke, its people dying en masse in a pandemic, and every urgent problem that required immediate attention deliberately unaddressed, if not outright denied. The horrific conclusion, with his flag-waving MAGA Minions storming the Capitol screaming for blood, was just about the only way he had left to tunnel any deeper beneath rock bottom, and one supposes the temptation to dig the shaft just that much farther down, just to revel in seeing it done, was irresistible. He’s The Donald. It’s his nature. The Frog and the Scorpion, and all that.
Jesus, that was a long four years, wasn’t it?
So there they stood, Biden, Harris and spouses, for all moral and practical purposes perched on the lip of a smouldering crater where the City on a Hill once gleamed, pausing in pained contemplation of all those lights. It was somber, and fitting, and probably brought many to tears. Me too.
There was something beside the sadness, though. That the incoming administration began this way, acknowledging and mourning, rather than denying and finger-pointing, filled me with anticipation of the corner that’s about to be turned. It was a moment of sober reflection the like of which neither Trump nor any of his idiot servants could possibly have conceived or organized, carried off with taste, dignity, and competence in a manner that powerfully emphasized the extent to which things are about to change. Manifestly, the adults have returned to take charge. They’ve come just in time to clean up the toxic mess left strewn all over the landscape when the jumped-up juvenile delinquents got their grubbies on the levers of power. The palpable spirit of renewal, of a return to sanity, must have filled millions watching with a sense of relief bordering on deliverance. Perhaps that, rather than remembrance, was really the primary goal.
Donald is done. He can’t dig us any deeper. There’s nowhere to go from here but up, and I hope that as I write, you’re sleeping tight tonight knowing this: starting at sunup, at last, the American carnage really does stop.