On March 4, 1933, an open-top car with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the back seat entered the north gate of the White House, part of a small motorcade ferrying the president-elect two miles to the Capitol Building for his inauguration.
The vehicles came to a halt near the portico and after a few moments, President Herbert Hoover and his wife exited what had been their home for the previous four years and advanced to separate cars, Hoover stepping into the seat next to Roosevelt, where the men shared a handshake and a terse greeting then rode off in mostly stiff silence for the swearing-in of the new president.
It was among the iciest transitions of power in U.S. history. The coming Jan. 20 may do it one better. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if President Donald Trump — who is as sore a loser as he is ungracious a winner — makes like President Andrew Johnson and skips Biden's inauguration. That wouldn't be a bad thing for the country, either, despite the predictable hand-wringing over yet another tradition defied. Out of sight, out of mind — though it's hard to imagine Trump staying out of sight — or out of earshot — for long.
If we've learned anything about our 45th president, it's that he craves the spotlight like a drug. Sitting quietly among the dignitaries as Biden places his hand on the Bible and swears to uphold the Constitution would undoubtedly make Trump squirm. Will he do it? Sit quietly and not interrupt? Or will he slip off to Mar-a-Lago and lob tweets from afar as the nation moves forward, finally, without him?
Meanwhile, according to a report from the White House press pool, sounds from preparations for the inaugural parade can be heard inside the White House as workers install fencing and erect bleachers. For Trump, each clang of a hammer on metal must sound like the clock ticking down the days of his presidency.
Trump's legal flailings over vote counts have drawn a lot of attention, with the demarcation line somewhere between "let him pursue his legal options" and "he's undermining faith in the electoral process." But there also are reports that he recognizes that he lost the election, which seems plausible. It's not likely that after a long business career, Trump doesn't know how to count.
But it's not in his nature to cede ground in a fight, and he has said that he doesn't lose very well. Hence the flood of lies, the tweets and retweets of conspiracy-based observations. Is he wandering the White House like Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation, reeling and talking to the portraits?
That's doubtful. Besides, he's been plenty busy in recent days firing appointees deemed not sufficiently loyal, raising money and solidifying support among his still-dedicated followers, luring them into embracing a false perception that somehow some great vast conspiracy stripped him — and them — of the presidency.
But in the end it's certain that Trump will go. Whether he goes graciously with his head held high, stomps off to sulk, and is dragged out — well, that's up to him.