Lady Gaga performs as Joe Biden watches on at his inauguration (Image: EPA/Michael Reynolds)

Well if he couldn’t do anything else right, the Donald at least put on a halfway decent final exit. He’d done a boring, boilerplate final address to the nation from the White House — written for him, no rants about stolen votes, getting hot women in NY in the ’70s, debunking Santa Claus etc, none of the good old stuff — and now here he was at Andrews Air Force Base, for the final Air Force One trip.

Makeshift podium, line of flags (17, the Q nutters would note; very significant), the big plane pulled up in the distance. Crowd of well-heeled invitees. No “low class” types, ie supporters. Bopping along to the Donald’s bizarre rally mix-tape, Creedence’s “Fortunate Son” sliding into “Macho Man”. Gonna miss that mixtape.

There’s about a 30-song pool to it, the favourites come and go. Here comes “Don’t Stop Believin'”. It’s good American flyover country music with a touch of NYC.

Over at the inauguration proper, it was hundreds of well-heeled people in masks, mingling as fancy, classic diddle-diddle music played, from military bands. Gah, it felt boring immediately, the old regime back.

And yeah Donald Trump was a four-year con, but… “Ladies and gentlemen, the first of three new fanfares, commissioned for …”. Three? Three new fanfares? This was the establishment’s revenge.

If Trump’s mark was to bring the ethic of US popular culture roaring into the centre of public life — reality TV, wrestling, TMZ — this inauguration was clearly going to be the triumphant return of the faux 18th century regale that attends government business.

All tailored overcoats and fulsome bows, plinky plonky music, fancy quotes from Bartlett’s and the better angels of our nature, groups called things like the Whiffenproof singers and military units like the 3rd Tripoli Powdered Whig Boys etc. Everyone sharking around in face masks, pointed, tailored.

All very hunger games. No one in the stands, no one in the mall, the elite in their special conclave, beamed worldwide. No protests in DC, or in state capitals, all the Q saddos watching on TV for “the storm” when the Donald announces the arrests and all the attendees pound at the wire fences, before being hauled off to execution.

The Donald then returns to DC while Gen Flynn holds the fort. There’d be a celebration like that all-McDonald’s banquet he held two years ago, remember that? Piles of cooling burgers and fries. The room must have smelt like a nappy left in the sun. Not to see its like again. 

Back at Andrews, well, if Donald was going to do it, he was cutting it fine. He worked the row of flunkies, gladhanding like, well, one of the elites. He and Melania on the podium, M looking superb, I bet she water-fasted a solid 48 before. When she gets on Air Force One, they’ll plunge a drip spigot in her at the door. 

Trump gave a final speech, about how hard his family had worked for the country, Trump grifters and delusionists lined up at the side. What a strange crew, what a gangster jubilee, executive power handed over to failsons and daughter-dad-whisperers for four years.

Alas, no last rant, no dummy spit, just the incredible last line to the country and the world: “have a nice life”. Have a Nice Life! The dumpee’s final comeback. He really said it! Then as the doors of Air Force One opened behind, “YMCA” began, the traditional and very-stirring hymn to bareback chickenhawk sex in New York in 1979.

And of course, “Tiny Dancer”, Trump’s talisman, the romantic half-gibberish song that must mark some residual patch of tenderness and nostalgia somewhere in the Donald’s soul. The song played. Nothing moved except the wind. “Hold me cloooserr…”. It was like Laurie Anderson video loop art. It was very American.

Back at the inauguration, it was all very nothing at all. The January 6 shambolic putsch/happening had given the event a rationale, the survival of a people’s republic.

Sadly, the people could not attend, as their leaders could not trust them to be there. Compared to the bogus, rough, unready circus of Trump’s rallies, the soaring marble dome and layered terraces only felt democratic if you didn’t know how much of the town was built by slaves, and maintained by corporations.

The diddle-diddle music kept on. Bernie Sanders entered onto the terrace in the same windbreaker he wore in ’16, yellow envelope in hand. Guess he had to post it, and why waste the whole day? Why waste it, heh? Why waste?

The music acquired a Curb Your Enthusiasm heft. Amy Klobuchar did the opening speech, polished as fake teak. “The sacred trust is restored” or something, in whiny sitcom tones.

Trump’s absence, his goneness, swelled to fill the vast, empty space of the imperial city. He really wasn’t there. Like how people said it was when Stalin died. It must be a trick.

Air Force One started its slow taxi, as the notes of “Tiny Dancer” faded away, and the voice of the real boss began to issue across the vast expanse of concrete. “And now, the end is near…”. Frankie!

God of every 20th century white man who feels himself to have gone up against the world. “More, much more than this, I did it…”. Someone had planned this last bit to the second. It was far more moving and strange and beautiful than anything at the inaug, pharoah carried to Florida heaven in his sky chariot, the clouds rolling out like one great white golf course. 

Back at the inauguration, Lady Gaga sang the anthem, Joe Biden staring at her like an uppity dance school niece showing off at Xmas, and Garth Brooks managed to make “Amazing Grace” uninspiring. “We’ll all sing the third verse,” he yelled. Whispers came from behind masks, it sounded like no one was there. The mics got turned up so loud, you could hear wind shear and bird song. 

Would have all been worth it for a barnstormer of a presidential speech, but Joe… ehhhh. As noon ticked over, and presidential power returned to the establishment, Biden’s barely written hymn to American possibility was strong on repetition — “we have never never never never ever failed” — and standard American fantasy too.

St Augustine was invoked — “love of the things we share in common” — and a million minds raced to what that might be for Americans. Unlimited soft drink refills. Baconaise. Medical bankruptcy. Shops called “Big Lots”. Lecturing other countries on fair elections. Marshmallow as a salad ingredient. 

We were pulled out of that reverie by… nothing. Joe ended with a call to unity that verged on pleading. Wasn’t a terrible speech, wasn’t anything at all. Set a tone of blah. After that there were invocations, and the day ended on its only punchy note, youf poet Amanda Gorman’s stunning, precise, poem/spoken word/soft rap about whose land this was, and how long it had been coming to them (oh god, JLo singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land”, communist anthem, as a lush lounge piece. I’d forgot that. Says it all…).

It’s not as if nothing had happened. A woman, and of colour, was vice-president. A skeevy thug was gone. Yet it didn’t feel enough, on a bare winter day, to live up to the promise invoked, or the endless prayers invoked to join this earthly business to the divine. “I ate it up, and spat it out, the record shows…”.

As Frank moved to crescendo, Air Force One gathered speed. On the song’s soft coda — “and did it myyyyyy wayyyyyy” — the wheels left the ground, and it leapt into the sky, its blue-grey blending in the winter sun. The feed stayed on. The plane hung seemingly motionless in the air. And then suddenly, it was all but out of sight, as the day moved on. 

What did you make of Joe Biden’s inauguration and Donald Trump’s farewell? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say column.

Peter Fray

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