At Biden HQ in Wilmington, Delaware on Saturday night, President-elect Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris addressed the nation after a particularly bizarre kind of victory. “THE PEOPLE HAVE CHOSEN EMPATHY” read signs on either side of the stage, and just before 8.30pm, Harris appeared in an all-white suit to a Mary J Blige tune to thank Americans for “turning out in record numbers to make your voices heard”.
“Joe is a healer, a uniter, a tester and a steady hand,” guided by “his own experience of loss,” Harris said. She spoke of her late mother, Shyamala, and the women of color who had supported her throughout her life and during her run for vice presidency. She didn’t waver once.
And then Joe himself was onstage, sadly not in an all-white suit of his own, quite literally running into position before giving his new VP a double fist-bump. What followed was a speech that repeated the lines he’d repeated many times during his pre-election events: “This was a fight for the soul of America,” “There are no red states and blue states, only the United States.” He also gave a touching shout-out to his wife Jill and to Harris (“Kamala, Doug, like it or not, you’re family. Once you become an honorary Biden, there’s no way out.”)
The African American community “stood up for me” and “always had my back,” he added halfway through his speech, beating his fist on the podium for emphasis. To Trump voters, he added, he wanted them to know that he’d “lost a couple times” himself and understood their “disappointment”. “They are not our enemies — they’re Americans,” he added, seemingly to liberals who might be ungracious in victory (perhaps he had in mind the popular circulating meme that reads: “Trump got the full 2020 experience: Got Covid, got fired, got evicted!” or the fact that the song F**k Donald Trump had just shot to the top of the downloads charts.)
Lincoln got a shout-out; FDR and JFK did too; and, of course, so did Obama, for whom those gathered beeped their car horns and cheered, waving miniature Stars and Stripes flags. Biden positioned himself as continuation of history, not-so-subtly therefore positioning Trump as a strange aberration everyone can now take a big breath and get rid of. He didn’t use his airtime to boast about his money, his ego or his perceived past wins. He was refreshingly, abnormally normal.
“There’s never, never been anything America tried that it wasn’t able to do,” the president-elect added, before telling people it’s important not just to “keep the faith” but to “spread the faith”. He made his only voluntary mention of son Hunter during his election campaign, saying that “my son Hunter and daughter Ashley and grandchildren mean everything to me”. And then the music came up, Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay played as confetti fell and the extended family of the Bidens and Harrises embraced onstage, and a formation of drones spelt out “BIDEN” in the night sky. Yes, really.
And after four years of what we all just endured, why not?
Elsewhere, as he entered the “if I can’t have the White House, no one can” phase of sore losership, Trump had appeared to announce on Saturday morning that he would address the nation from outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a small gardening firm in Philadelphia round the corner from an adult book store. A large ballot dump was due from the state of Pennsylvania at the same time. As it turned out, only the president’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Corey Lewandowski, came out — and as they rambled on about “election fraud” with no evidence, Pennsylvania was called and the election officially went to Joe Biden. Reporters began to leave en masse. News networks cut away from the microphones on a semi-deserted industrial estate to big announcements from their anchors. Global leaders, including Boris Johnson of the UK and Emmanuel Macron of France, began sending their congratulations to Biden and Harris.
But there was no concession speech from Donald J Trump, and there isn’t even now. No chance to tie up loose ends. No smiling shrug and cheeky, “But you haven’t seen the last of me yet!” No quick and easy deal with Fox News for a late-night show with a promise to hold the libs to account from the nation’s living room TV screens. No Ivanka reeled out to smooth it all over, to smile and say that it was all very close and they’ll look forward to seeing what happens in the Biden administration. No dignity. No stature.
No, Donald had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the candy aisle because he wouldn’t stop trying to rip open the gummy bears. It has been, even by his standards, a particularly inglorious end.
Two days after the 2016 election, newly President-elect Trump met then-President Obama at the White House, at Obama’s invitation. They spoke for an hour and a half. Obama said afterwards that Trump deserved the chance to show the nation what he could do. One can’t imagine the same meeting happening between Trump and Biden any time soon. A president-elect making a victory speech before his predecessor has publicly conceded is certainly a breach in normal American political protocol.
Nevertheless, with no concession to follow and no kind platitudes about his opponent to shoehorn into the rhetoric, Biden has made a victory speech, and an undeniably touching one at that. He has also made his first effort at reaching across the aisle — to the Trump-loving electorate, rather than the Trump-enabling Republicans.
It’s the end of a “grim era of demonization,” Biden said in the final few moments of his speech, in one of his only half-nods toward his opponent (he never mentioned Trump by name). It’s time to “heal," he added. Did he mean from the virus? Did he mean from Trump? Did he mean from the mud-slinging of the last few weeks of the campaign? Presumably the answer is: all of the above. And as Joseph Robinette Biden walked off in the company of a new friend and soon-to-be VP who was once his fiercest public critic, Donald John Trump continued to tweet in all caps into the darkness: “I WON THE ELECTION, GOT 71,000,000 LEGAL VOTES. BAD THINGS HAPPENED WHICH OUR OBSERVERS WERE NOT ALLOWED TO SEE.”
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