Four years ago, Donald Trump’s demonstrably false crowd count — and the weirdest speech in Inauguration Day history — foreshadowed the acres of lies that followed and, perhaps inevitably, the strangest swearing-in of a new president Wednesday.

On Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day, Trump at least can boast that almost nobody showed up for his successor, thanks to Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6 insurgency. The National Mall, rather than a vast open space where tens of thousands traditionally convene to watch the ceremony on supersized screens, has become a military encampment some 25,000 National Guard troops, plus several thousand city police, Secret Service agents and snipers, deployed in the aftermath of the American carnage Trump weirdly promised to eradicate in 2017.

Four years ago, there was no such carnage, though Trump’s speech that day would have made one think we were on the brink of civil war. All in good time. The rioters who descended upon the Capitol on Jan. 6, marauding like drunken Halloween revelers, sullying the sacred spaces of the American people, left five people dead and the world wondering what to make of a madman’s maniacal, monarchical fantasy.

As Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former attorney general William P. Barr both recently affirmed, the mob was provoked by Trump. The riots weren’t necessarily “inevitable,” said Barr, but he had long been concerned about violence, given mounting distrust of the media and the integrity of elections on the right. When Trump began his tenure by strategically declaring the news media “the enemy of the people,” even encouraging violence against them, he basically put a target on the backs of reporters and inoculated himself against “fake news,” otherwise known as facts, including his fair and square loss to Biden.

To which one can only add: Poor Joe.

The oldest president-elect in American history must be wondering how he happened to luck into the office just now. The third try in his case may be a curse rather than the proverbial charm. If he were a little nervous about placing his right hand on the Bible surrounded by an army, most of us would forgive him. A swearing-in is a momentous occasion under the best circumstances; at this particular moment, it is slightly terrifying and worthy of prayer. We’ll all breathe better when it’s safely over.

Biden’s mission to unite the country, meanwhile, seems as daunting as what faced the captain of the Titanic. Two days before Inauguration Day — on the Monday celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday — Trump dumped his “1776 Report” on the doorstep of Biden’s presidential term. It was an egregious parting shot, to put it politely. Written partly in response to the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” which wrote history from the perspective of the enslaved, the 45-page report is a fable told by conservative non-historians that indicts identity politics and progressivism and is one last way to rally Trump’s base and troll his opponents.

In other words, Trump tossed his bloody glove on the path of Biden’s first 100 days. The report’s authors may make points that resonate with the conservative-minded, but they won’t help Biden’s primary mission to unify the country. For starters, he should quickly leave Trump to history and resist the urge to remind people of the mess he inherited. We’re well aware — and the buck now stops at Biden’s desk. To the extent physically and safely possible, he should revisit the country and talk directly to the people — not through Twitter but in the flesh. We’ve also had enough of a social media president.

Throughout his campaign, Biden promised to work for all Americans, including the nearly 74 million who voted for Trump. Getting the coronavirus and vaccine program under control, as Biden hopes to do with his $1.9 trillion proposal, would go a long way to fulfilling that pledge. Not so much his plan to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but the devil is in the details.

Whatever policies evolve, Biden’s most significant contribution to the country would be a shift in tone from confrontational to conciliatory. His softer touch, his compassion born of suffering, his hard-earned experience as a father and the wisdom of an elder statesman familiar with both humility and the machinery of government make him well suited for a moment when most would welcome a kinder, gentler nation.

In that spirit, Biden deserves a fair chance to make good on his intentions — and Trump a hollow, cheerless send-off equal to his legacy.

Read more: