An inaugural address “is rarely an occasion for original thought or stimulating reflection,” the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote in an introduction to a collection of them published in 1965. “The platitude quotient tends to be high, the rhetoric stately and self-serving, the ritual obsessive, and the surprises few.”

Things haven’t improved since ’65. New and renewed presidents have soared to higher and higher platitudes. In his 2009 inaugural, Barack Obama reminded Americans of their preeminence. “In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given,” he said. “It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.”

America “will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories,” Obama went on four years ago. “We will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.”

And so on.

He withdrew heavily from the First Bank of Stale Metaphors. Rising tides of prosperity and still waters of peace were followed by gathering clouds and raging storms.