Trump skips Biden inauguration

By Eli Stokols
Los Angeles Times/TNS

WASHINGTON -  Donald John Trump, despite two months of desperate attempts to retain power that tested America’s democracy and provoked his second impeachment, couldn’t change the final scene Wednesday morning as if it were one of his old reality-TV shows. He had no choice but to play the loser.

Less than four hours before his successor was to be sworn in at the Capitol, the 45th president of the United States and First Lady Melania Trump emerged from the White House, and briefly bid a reluctant farewell to a small group of reporters and aides gathered nearby. Trump said that it had been the “honor of a lifetime” to serve as president, adding, “Hopefully it’s not a long-term goodbye.”

Then the Trumps walked across a short red carpet to the South Lawn and boarded Marine One, which lifted up at 8:17 a.m. and carried them out of Washington for the final time as president and first lady.

At Joint Base Andrews, a few hundred supporters who’d gathered before sunrise to clear security waited on a frigid tarmac across from Air Force One. They faced a flag-lined stage with a lectern bearing the familiar presidential seal, a smaller-than-expected crowd indulging Trump’s desire for some fanfare in his final hours as commander in chief.

Just as in the 1,461 days of his term that preceded it, for Trump this one was more about him than about the office.

Greeted by his adult children at Andrews, Trump smiled amid a 21-gun salute and stepped quickly onto the riser and up to the microphone for a final valedictory. It was a familiar recitation of boasts about accomplishments, approval ratings and economic indicators he falsely described as “the best ever.”

“What we’ve done has been amazing by any standard,” he said. Yet again, he failed to mention his successor’s name.

Trump’s refusal to take part in the typical Inauguration Day ceremonies alongside President-elect Joe Biden broke a 152-year tradition that has been a hallmark of America’s peaceful transfer of power, and underscored his growing political isolation at the end of his presidency.

Neither the outgoing vice president, Mike Pence, nor Republican congressional leaders showed up for his sendoff, which came just 15 days after the Capitol was overrun by a violent mob of Trump supporters and just seven hours after his final controversial act as president - the midnight granting of clemency to 143 individuals, including his former senior advisor Stephen K. Bannon, who’d been awaiting trial for allegedly defrauding Trump’s own supporters of millions of dollars.

Speaking without a teleprompter as the sun rose behind him, Trump tried to project optimism but his disappointment was evident. He lamented the pandemic that set the economy back - largely because of his administration’s inability to contain the coronavirus’ spread - and urged the crowd to credit him for the eventual recovery.

“Remember us when you see these incredible things happening,” he said. “Remember us, if you would.”

Trump offered well wishes to “the new administration,” which inherits a historic array of health, economic and security crises. He predicted that “they’ll have great success” - but because of his four years in office.

“They have the foundation to do something really spectacular,” he said. “And again, we put it in a position like it’s never been before.”

An administration official confirmed that Trump did stick to one tradition, leaving a personal letter for Biden in the Oval Office as some past presidents have done for their successors. The official did not describe the message.

As he said good-bye, Trump vowed, “We will be back in some form.” That may be up to the Senate, which is set to convene a second impeachment trial soon. If the president is convicted for his role in inciting the violent mob that laid siege to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to stop the ratification of Biden’s victory, lawmakers would likely vote on a resolution to bar him from running for office again.

His final words to the country were glib. “Have a good life,” he said. “We will see you soon.”

Just as at his rallies, music blared from speakers. Marines stood at attention as the Trumps walked another red carpet and then up the steps of Air Force One, offering a final wave before their flight to Palm Beach, Fla.

Rather than witnessing the traditional imagery of the outgoing president welcoming the successor at the White House and riding together to the Capitol, Americans were left with a day of split-screen television images. They were prevented from coming to this heavily fortified inauguration by the combination of public health and security concerns.

Just as Trump disappeared inside Air Force One, Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, left Blair House across the street from the White House and headed to church. Moments later, at 8:59 a.m., the plane taxied and lifted off as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played for Trump’s supporters. As the aircraft climbed into the air with exactly three hours left in Trump’s term, television networks cut abruptly to the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where Biden and congressional leaders of both parties filled the pews.

The dramatic shift of power, even without the departing president’s participation, was underway.

President Donald Trump speaks to his supporters prior to boarding Air Force One to head to Florida on Jan. 20, 2021 in Joint Base Andrews, Md. Trump, the first president in more than 150 years to refuse to attend his successor's inauguration, is expected to spend the final minutes of his presidency at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.