Trump skips inauguration, hints of return

President Donald Trump has disappeared behind the walls of his club in Palm Beach, Florida, ending a tumultuous presidency stained by two impeachments, deep political divisions and a pandemic that has caused 400,000 US deaths.

The Republican president departed the White House with his wife, Melania, saying it had been a great honour to serve and giving a final wave as he boarded the Marine One helicopter for Joint Base Andrews, where he delivered farewell remarks.

“So just a goodbye. We love you. We will be back in some form,” Trump told supporters on Wednesday morning before boarding Air Force One for the flight to Florida. “Have a good life. We will see you soon.”

The plane then taxied and lifted off as Frank Sinatra’s classic song My Way played over the loudspeakers. Air Force One later flew low to give Trump an aerial view of his post-presidential home at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

Before leaving the White House, Trump left a note for his successor, Democrat Joe Biden, a spokesman said, following one small bit of traditional protocol related to the peaceful transfer of power that Trump had otherwise eschewed. Trump has declined to mention Biden’s name even as he wished the incoming administration luck on his way out of office.

“The president wrote a very generous letter,” Biden told reporters later in the Oval Office. “Because it was private, I won’t talk about it until I talk to him. But it was generous.”

Trump, 74, departed hours before Biden’s inauguration. That made him the first outgoing president since 1869 to skip the inauguration day ceremony, in a final display of pique at his failure to win the November 3 election.

Trump’s motorcade slow-rolled past a long line of supporters on his way to Mar-a-Lago. His arrival there was timed to get behind its walls before his term as president expired at noon.

“I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening. And I will tell you that the future of this country has never been better,” Trump said in his farewell remarks. “I wish the new administration great luck and great success. I think they’ll have great success. They have the foundation to do something really spectacular.”

Trump has a long way to go to rebuild an image left in tatters by his presidency, particularly the final months. He is the only president to be impeached twice.

The Senate is on track to hold a trial on the impeachment charge brought by the Democratic-led House of Representatives that Trump incited an insurrection in connection with the January 6 deadly storming of the US Capitol by his supporters. Its outcome could determine whether he will be disqualified from running again for president.

Courts have rejected his campaign’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud and his vice-president, Mike Pence, led Congress in certifying Biden’s victory over Trump’s objections.

The Washington that Trump left behind was guarded by 25,000 National Guard troops, while the National Mall, traditionally thronged with spectators on inauguration day, was closed to the public because of threats of further violence.

Trump also failed to control the spiralling coronavirus outbreak in the United States, which has the most deaths of any country. Pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions have also cost millions of Americans their jobs.

The former real estate tycoon who owns 17 golf resorts around the world faces a gigantic task rebuilding his brand.

The New York Times reported that many of his resorts have been losing millions of dollars and that hundreds of millions in debt must be repaid within a few years.

He must also decide how to stay involved in politics, as he has promised to do. But it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his grip on the party.

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