WELL, WE made it. Some 1,461 days after Donald Trump took office as president, he must leave it, having been defeated for reelection last Nov. 3 by Joseph R. Biden Jr., who will be sworn in as the 46th president at noon Wednesday. Many Americans, surveying the damage Mr. Trump did — most spectacularly by inciting mob violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — are understandably not inclined to feel anything much more positive than relief. They should not, however, sell this momentous occasion short.

Measured against what could have gone wrong — a Trump reelection, probably via a bare electoral college majority, or his outright refusal to surrender office once he lost — Mr. Biden’s impending inauguration is cause for celebration. It results from a clear and convincing electoral victory, with 81.2 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes, including those of previously pro-Trump states such as Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Those who lament Mr. Trump’s 74.2 million votes have a point. His continuing appeal is a challenge to needed change in the Republican Party and to Mr. Biden’s wishes for unity. Yet Mr. Trump has become only the ninth president not reelected after winning a first term in his own right. The voters rejected his brazen campaign of insults and demagoguery, unleavened by a positive agenda. He has been further diminished by his malignant refusal to accept the results, by the Jan. 6 riot sparked by that refusal and by his ensuing impeachment.

This speaks well of American political culture. For our institutions, too, the cup is half-full. Yes, two facts indelibly mar Jan. 20, 2021. First, this is not a peaceful transfer of power, acknowledged and accepted by all. Rather, Washington has seen awful violence spawned by false allegations of electoral fraud; the threat of more has necessitated security measures unlike any seen since Civil War-era inaugurations. Second, Mr. Trump is boycotting the proceedings, contrary to any of his predecessors since the equally rancorous Andrew Johnson stayed away from Ulysses S. Grant’s 1869 swearing-in. What’s more, there will not be the usual celebratory crowds and balls, because of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Biden takes the oath in the shadow of more than 400,000 covid-19 deaths.

Stripped to their essentials, however, our constitutional processes gain a certain stark formidability. The minimum necessary to sustain the republic will indeed be done, notwithstanding all the stress the system faced during four years of presidentially aggravated political strife and one year of socially destabilizing illness and death. After all, the very first president defeated for reelection, John Adams, skipped town rather than watch Thomas Jefferson take the oath in March 1801, and Adams, George Washington’s successor and a co-author of the Declaration of Independence, was a far more illustrious American than Mr. Trump. The United States went on to better days; except for Johnson and Adams’s son John Quincy in 1829, no president repeated Adams’s mistake, until the aberrant incumbent.

This exception, too, can and will give way to a better rule. Adams himself reconciled with Jefferson. In the same spirit, Mr. Biden has said he will be the president even of those who did not vote for him. That promise is in the best American political tradition, which, despite everything, has not died.

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