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Three Wednesdays in January

On three successive Wednesdays, the nation veered from insurrection to impeachment to inauguration, displaying our constitutional republic in all its fragility, resilience and strength.

Donald Trump gave a final wave as he boarded Marine One to depart the White House for the last time on Wednesday.
Donald Trump gave a final wave as he boarded Marine One to depart the White House for the last time on Wednesday.Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post

To understand the fragility, resilience, and ultimate strength of our constitutional republic, consider the first three Wednesdays in January 2021.

In the space of three weeks, this nation veered from insurrection to impeachment to inauguration, with the last of these making Joe Biden the 46th president of the United States of America, at a time when united seems more aspiration than reality.

As surreal and appalling as the insurrection was, as anticlimactic and futile as Donald Trump’s second impeachment appears, the inauguration offered the prospect of returning to something approaching normalcy.

At last, he is gone, he being the worst, most unpopular president ever.

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So, to what does one compare this? What’s the metaphor?

Lancing a boil?

Amputating a gangrenous limb?

If Donald Trump weren’t such a loathsome character, he might deserve some pity.

It was certainly pitiful to watch his exit from Washington, a town he promised to clean up but which he left figuratively covered in muck.

“We did what we came here to do,” Trump said in his final videotaped message as president.

If undermining the very foundations of our republic was the goal, then, yes, Trump did, indeed, do that.

The inauguration of his successor took place in a militarized atmosphere more akin to a banana republic than ours. Trump’s actions, refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the election that sent him packing, thumbing his nose at the democratic tradition of a peaceful, dignified transfer of power, left the nation’s Capitol scarred and the nation’s capital in fear so visceral that some soldiers deployed to protect the inauguration were removed because of extremist sympathies.

Some legacy.

Trump’s final official act was to pardon or commute the sentences of 143 who earned his sympathy, among them sleazy lobbyists, shameless conmen, shady businessmen, corrupt politicians, gun-toting rappers, and low-level drug dealers. While the vast majority of corrupt pols were Republicans, in a nod to bipartisanship, Trump pardoned Kwame Kilpatrick, a Democrat who as mayor of Detroit would steal a hot stove and come back for the smoke.

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Rather than drain the swamp, as he promised, Trump released more than a few swamp monsters.

I have no problem with Trump pardoning his former strategist and evil genius Steve Bannon, wishing only that, in exchange for the pardon, Trump had secured a promise from Bannon that he would shower once in a while and self-deport to some uncharted island.

Trump unintentionally did the country a favor by not attending the inauguration of his successor. His ego was unwittingly patriotic, allowing the day to be remembered not for his sulking presence but Biden’s call for decency and the soaring, graceful words of the poet Amanda Gorman.

The departure of the former president and former first lady from Washington was a joyless affair, more reminiscent of an abdication than a reluctant farewell.

The pomp that Trump insisted upon was, like everything about him, cloying. A draft dodger who once claimed that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases was his personal Vietnam, he demanded military trappings.

A selection of pop tripe blared from a speaker at Joint Base Andrews, betraying Trump’s unshakable belief that being loudest is being best. In her relentless quest to be best, Melania Trump did not reprise her “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket, opting for a funereal black outfit.

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His final speech, replete with the obligatory falsehoods and exaggerations, was delivered to a modest crowd, possibly the smallest of his presidency.

The song selected to accompany the couple’s final walk to Air Force One — the Village People’s “YMCA,” popularly known as an anthem for gay liberation — was a perfect coda to the most clueless administration in history.

Trump turned and waved one last time, his skin a weirdly artificial orange, his combover slightly askew, the final image offering an apt, one-word description of his presidency: grotesque.

As Air Force One taxied on the runway, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played. Then the plane took off, bound for Florida, a place where old gangsters like to spend their golden years.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.