It did not emulate the brevity of Abraham Lincoln, who squeezed his second inaugural address into 701 words (yes, considerably shorter than this piece). But at triple Lincoln’s length, Barack Obama was certainly briefer than his own more prolix self in 2009. He was also more directly political. Then Steven Spielberg famously said that it would be impossible to stage the scene for a film. With a crowd of up to 800,000 this time rather than 1.8m, Mr Spielberg might still struggle. But it was a very different occasion.
With the theme “Faith in America’s future”, Mr Obama was always going to give it a lofty frame – the first requirement of any inaugural speech. He was tee-ed up by an unabashedly exceptionalist Chuck Schumer, the New York senator and master of ceremonies, whose words reminded us that the US is in reality a constitutional monarchy as opposed to a crowned republic (such as Canada). The “innate majesty” of US inaugurations “never fails to make our hearts beat faster”, Mr Schumer said.