No cascade of lies. No speaker of the House of Representatives ripping up the speech of a recently impeached president. Almost no face masks or Covid restrictions or sad empty seats in the public gallery.
Joe Biden's State of the Union address in Washington was basically normal. If someone had built a time machine in 2010 and travelled forward to 2023, they would have felt in pretty familiar territory. It's been quite a while since you could say that.
Here was a president midway through his first term, confidently touting achievements and sounding positive about the future. Biden, slayer of Chinese spy balloons, was in a feisty mood, wearing his 80 years lightly and doing enough to silence doubters within his own party about an imminent re-election campaign ("Mr President, that was awesome!" was the raw reaction of Jamaal Bowman, a member of the leftwing "Squad").
Here, also, was a president seeking to strike bipartisan notes. He began by congratulating Kevin McCarthy, the new speaker of the House of Representatives, giving Republicans an excuse to roar in support of their own (and quipping, "Speaker, I don't want to ruin your reputation but I look forward to working with you"). Then he did the same for the House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, giving Democrats the same liberty.
Biden went on to name-check Republican Mitch McConnell ("Where are you Mitch?") and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. It was a Bill Clinton-esque touch of charm designed to leave everyone feeling happy.
It's easy to forget now that, after failed runs for president in 1988 and 2008, and after Barack Obama was less than encouraging in 2016, Biden's political career seemed all washed up. He has said he was motivated to run again in 2020 to heal the soul of a nation traumatised by his predecessor, Donald Trump. He came to office facing interlocking climate, coronavirus, economic and racial justice crises.
Two years later, Biden is, suddenly and unexpectedly, a historically consequential president. This was his "We've Come a Long Way, Baby" speech, making the case that the worst is over, order is being restored and he is making America sane again. He reflected: "Two years ago, our economy was reeling. As I stand here tonight, we have created a record 12m new jobs, more jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years.
"Two years ago, Covid had shut down our businesses, closed our schools and robbed us of so much. Today, Covid no longer controls our lives. And two years ago, our democracy faced its greatest threat since the civil war. Today, though bruised, our democracy remains unbowed and unbroken."
This was Biden's first State of the Union address to a divided Congress, following midterm elections in which Republicans gained a slender majority in the House. It was therefore McCarthy, not Nancy Pelosi, sitting him behind him alongside Vice-President Kamala Harris on the dais.
But Biden came bearing an olive branch, noting that he has signed more than 300 bipartisan laws since becoming president. "To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can't work together in this new Congress," he said.
When he announced new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America, there were bipartisan cheers. When he spoke of an America that can still do big things, citing the Republican president George W Bush's Pepfar effort against HIV/Aids, there was bipartisan clapping for activist and musician Bono in the public gallery. And when he acknowledged guest Paul Pelosi, husband of former speaker Nancy Pelosi, recovering from a vicious hammer attack, again there was bipartisan applause.
He thanked Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure law. He then teased: "And to my Republican friends who voted against it but still ask to fund projects in their districts, don't worry. I promised to be the president for all Americans. We'll fund your projects. And I'll see you at the ground-breaking."
Elise Stefanik, a leading Republican who has already endorsed Trump for president in 2024, sat stony-faced at that. Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, could not prevent a smile dancing across his lips.
In such moments the rancor and division of the past eight years did not, for once, seem an inescapable death spiral. But you did not have to look hard for reminders. Sitting on the end of a row, wearing an orange tie and live-tweeting on his phone, was George Santos, the con artist who personifies the Republicans' current divorce from truth.
And of course there were skirmishes, especially over the looming standoff over raising the debt ceiling. Biden said: "Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and social security to sunset. I'm not saying it's the majority."
Uproar. McCarthy shook his head as many Republicans shouted "No!".
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, dressed in an elaborate white fur that would make Norma Desmond blush, yelled: "You lie! You lie! Liar!" Biden ad-libbed: "Anybody who doubts it, contact my office, I'll give you a copy of the proposal." He was too polite to name names, he added, and as the heckles died down, he said: "As we all apparently agree, social security and Medicare are apparently off the books now … We've got unanimity!"
Somehow he had tricked Republicans into joining Democrats in standing and applauding entitlements. Adam Kinzinger, a former Republican congressman, tweeted: "Joe Biden sparring with the crowd and winning wasn't something I expected."
Despite the interruptions, Biden never lost control, blending sorrow for the parents of Tyre Nichols in the balcony with anger as he demanded change. "Let's do what we know in our hearts we need to do. Let's come together and finish the job on police reform. Do something."
As he so often does, the president described this as "an inflection point" in American history. There's no denying that. Russia is reportedly gearing up for a massive new offensive in Ukraine. Trump is back on the campaign trail like a horror movie villain who refuses to be vanquished. Biden's own future is in question as opinion polls suggest that even a majority of his own party do not want him to run again.
But Biden also loves to say it's never been a good bet to bet against America. It's also never been a good bet to bet against Joe Biden. His still unofficial campaign for the White House in 2024 is off to a strong start.