WASHINGTON — It began with a familiar pledge: President Trump’s audience, he promised, was going to be very proud of him.
“Hi, Drumstick,” Mr. Trump called out on Tuesday, preparing to exercise his least controversial executive authority. “Oh, Drumstick, I think, is going to be very happy.”
It ended with characteristic introspection.
“I feel so good about myself,” the president said softly, appraising his own clemency, laying a hand on the bird after seeking permission to touch it from turkey professionals.
Mr. Trump looked upon the crowd in the Rose Garden and announced his decision: The animal was hereby pardoned for the crime of being born a turkey.
Such was Mr. Trump’s inaugural take on a Washington tradition that seems to exist mostly because it existed the year before, a sort of “Apprentice” for the long-necked set, superimposed on the White House for a statelier feel.
“Very special people, a very special country,” Mr. Trump summarized, a bit mechanically, before heading off to Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Yet if some presidents have slogged through the more ceremonial elements of the office — grimacing through regrettable puns written by aides, counting the seconds until they could return to federal duties that did not include standoffish poultry — Mr. Trump appeared perhaps more comfortable than usual, unburdened by forces beyond his jurisdiction.
So much of the job has frustrated him, by his own account. He cannot intervene in Justice Department affairs, he has lamented. He cannot browbeat lawmakers into affirming his agenda.
Here is something he can control: This turkey lives. Other turkeys die. It is so ordered.
“They say, ‘Enough talk,’” Mr. Trump said at one point, imagining an internal monologue for Drumstick and a peer, Wishbone, who was apparently spared off-camera. “‘Please pardon us.’”
For about eight minutes, Mr. Trump seemed to forget about Russia-tinged investigations, about congressional gear-grinding, about college basketball players (or the relatives of college basketball players) showing insufficient gratitude for his efforts.
He marveled at the size of Drumstick (“Thirty-six pounds — that’s a big bird”), admired the animal’s appearance (“beautiful turkey”), praised the spot where the turkey would settle (“Gobbler’s Rest, beautiful place”) and the university that houses it (“Virginia Tech, tremendous school”).
He mentioned Pennsylvania without interrupting himself to note that he had carried the state in a surprise result last year.
He joked that he had been advised against seeking to reverse the pardons of Tater and Tot, the last turkeys given their reprieve under President Barack Obama.
“As many of you know, I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor,” Mr. Trump said. “However, I have been informed by the White House Counsel’s Office that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot, under any circumstances, be revoked.”
Mr. Trump has stocked his tenure with disarming moments of presidential pageantry, often infusing photo ops with such telling asides: complaining about the news media to the Halloween-costumed children of the news media; looking into an eclipse without protective eyewear because he could not resist; sliding behind the wheel of a giant truck on the White House lawn because it seemed like fun.
And with Mr. Trump, subtext often has a way of becoming text. There was at least some expectation on Tuesday that he might let fly an ill-conceived groaner about the wisdom of retaining a pardon or two for later, with a special counsel inquiry shadowing his administration.
That was not to be.
Flanked in the Rose Garden by his wife, Melania, and his youngest son, Barron — with a guest list that also included his daughters Ivanka and Tiffany and his son-in-law Jared Kushner — Mr. Trump wished American families well, thanked military and law enforcement personnel and approached the animal.
“Are you ready, Drumstick?” he asked. “O.K.?”
He pardoned the bird and began clapping at his act. Others followed. Drumstick began gobbling a bit, tilting its neck back to take it all in.
Mr. Trump turned to shake a few hands, when a shout pierced the low hum of pleasantries.
“Are you going to pardon any people?” cried a voice near the back, beside a row of cameras.