Benjamin Wallace-Wells of The New Yorker –
Joe Biden emphasized the country’s character on Saturday, in his first speech as President-elect.
It made sense to begin with Kamala Harris. The joyful celebrations across the country through the day had been in Joe Biden’s name but in the spirit that Harris had been appointed to the ticket to embody: of young people in cities, of many different races, who had a feeling for the future. Harris, who will soon become the first woman, first Black person, and first South Asian person to hold the office of Vice-President, took the stage on Saturday night wearing a white suit, perhaps a nod to Hillary Clinton but also to the legacy of the suffragettes. She quoted the late congressman and civil-rights hero John Lewis, who wrote, shortly before his death, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.” Harris said that what Lewis had meant “was that America’s democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it and never take it for granted. And protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it.”Watch Joe Biden’s first speech as President-elect of the United States.
There was joy in Harris. She smiled wide and let her shoulders heave to breathe in the atmosphere. She was speaking before some few hundred people and their cars in a waterfront lot in Delaware—it wasn’t Grant Park, and it wasn’t Washington, or Philadelphia, where thousands of people were out in the streets in happy throngs. But if the setting was a little sterile, it also had the effect of drawing the eye toward the people onstage. Harris spoke of Biden and what will soon be the First Family intimately. He “loves with abandon,” she said, mentioning his wife, Jill Biden, his son Hunter, his daughter Ashley, and his deceased son Beau. “What a testament it is to Joe’s character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exist in our country and select a woman as Vice-President.” The cars honked; the confetti was readied; Springsteen boomed through the speakers. The President-elect, masked, took the stage at a trot. He said, “Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end—here and now.”
Much of Biden’s speech was drawn directly from the slogans of his campaign: the promise to “restore the soul” of the country, the call to “give each other a chance” and to stop seeing fellow-Americans as enemies. The new element, or the heightened one, at least, was faith. In part, this meant religious faith—Biden read a hymn, which he said he hoped might give some comfort to the families of the two hundred and thirty thousand Americans lost to covid-19, and quoted from Ecclesiastes: “The Bible tells us to everything there is a season: a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow, and a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.”