There hasn’t been any live drama for me to review for many Covid-plagued months. But the last few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency was real-life drama that surpassed anything I could hope to see in the theater. It had everything: suspense, stunning violence, retribution, catharsis, and, most of all, the triumph of the good guys in the end.
Let’s review. One could hardly have imagined a more catastrophic end to Donald Trump’s catastrophic presidency. Even amidst a pandemic that he stubbornly refused to acknowledge; even after all the falsehoods, the bullying, the chaos, and finally the cynical crusade to overturn an election he decisively lost — Trump could still have ended his presidency with some measure of dignity, or at least without doing damage to his future prospects, financial and political. Complain about voter fraud and lodge your legal objections, fine; bitch and moan all you want when the courts rule against you; do everything you can to screw things up for the next guy in the White House. But once the Constitution says you have to leave office, take it like a man: acknowledge the winner, attend the inauguration, and retreat to Mar-a-Lago to count your campaign donations and plot your next act.
But no, for once Trump’s political instincts failed him. He once claimed he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and he wouldn’t lose a vote. But he was wrong; he did the moral equivalent — blasting away at the most basic tenet of our Constitution, the right of the people to choose their leaders in democratic elections — and discovered it was a bridge too far. Even loyal Republicans, from Georgia state officials to his own toadying Vice President, wouldn’t play along. When he turned to his last resort, the right-wing crazies whose anger he had stoked for four years, he incited a riot that accomplished something even his most egregious policies and violations of constitutional “norms” couldn’t. He united virtually the whole country against him.
His downfall had elements of classic tragedy: the heroic protagonist (well, heroic to some) brought down by his own hubris. Yet the payback was as devastating and cathartic as a Quentin Tarantino revenge thriller: a chorus of condemnation by former allies (even Mitch McConnell); a shunning by the business community and the banks that used to lend to him; the loss of his Twitter soapbox; a realization that even a self-pardon wouldn’t forestall his mounting legal problems; a second impeachment trial; and a sad, lonely farewell scene, attended by a handful of loyalists but with little of the military pomp that he had reportedly envisioned. Nobody likes a sore loser, but rarely does one look so forlorn.
The inauguration of Joe Biden a couple of hours later was a supremely satisfying bookend to the whole tawdry drama. Sun shining; flags waving on a sparsely populated but uncommonly beautiful Capitol Mall; speeches that were brisk and uplifting; Garth Brooks singing “Amazing Grace.” And if Amanda Gorman, the young poet whose animated delivery of “The Hill We Climb” was a joyous capstone to the event, isn’t getting calls from every late-night TV booker in the business, I would be shocked. A star is born.