These are my conclusions about Mr. Biden’s speech, which lasted just over 20 minutes. They are in a different order, but I recorded them while watching the speech.
1. Donald Trump has dug a hole: Biden did not mention his predecessor by name, but it was very clear, especially in the first few minutes of his speech, that the current president placed much of the blame for the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic on the previous president. A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was quietly welcomed and spread unchecked for days, weeks and then months in denial, Biden said at one point. This has led to an increase in deaths, infections, stress and loneliness. At another point, Biden took off his mask and marveled that it had become a kind of political statement.
2. The return of empathy: In his speech, Biden made a gesture that showed his empathy for the lives lost because of this pandemic. He pulled a map from his coat pocket, which he said he always carried, and read off the exact and current number of Americans killed by the coronavirus. (That number exceeds 527,000.) Yes, of course, Biden did it for dramatic effect. But it worked. And he has made it clear that this is a leader who cares about the deaths of the pandemic – literally. It also provided a not-so-subtle contrast to the overt politicization of Trump and those who have indulged in it.
3. The fight against the virus: In the language he chose and the comparisons he made, Mr. Biden clearly wanted Americans to understand that we are at war with Covid-19. He said the country was at war. He noted that Covid-19 has now killed more Americans than World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. Even in quoting Farewell to Arms – many strong, fragmentary passages – Biden referred to Ernest Hemingway’s World War I novel. The message was clear: This is not the enemy the United States is used to fighting. But the fact remains that it is the enemy, and the need for sacrifice and unity is as great as it was when America was at war with the Axis powers.
4. The truth is important: Again, according to Number One, Trump was not mentioned by name in that speech, but he was all over the place. We know what we need to do to defeat this virus: tell the truth, follow the science, work together, Biden said at one point, bluntly chiding Trump for ignoring the facts and science about the coronavirus during the 2020 campaign. Biden said you owe as much as the truth. And while Biden said he was optimistic that the situation will return to normal – more on that later – he did say that things can go wrong, that there are variants of the virus and that we can expect another outbreak if proper containment practices are not followed.
5. U-N-I-T-Y: At the most remarkable moment of the evening, the President of the United States looked into the lens of the camera and said to the American people: I need you. Then he repeated it: I need you. (Scott Wilson of the Washington Post called it the most memorable and unusual speech in a presidential address on prime time). Several times in his speech, Biden spoke of the power we have to overcome Covid-19. He spoke of the need to find common ground. He said the fight against the virus and the return to normalcy depend on national unity. And that every American must do his part. The idea of America coming together to do this stands in stark contrast to Trump’s presidency, of which the 45th president has been the most outspoken critic. The president has tried to focus – on the coronavirus of immigration to race – on what divides us, not on our common humanity. This is the United States of America, and there’s nothing we can’t do if we do it together, Biden said at the end of his speech.
6. Fourth of July Circle: Biden said by Independence Day, there’s a good chance you can get together and have dinner or barbecue in your backyard. There’s nothing better than hanging out with friends in the backyard on a sweltering Washington summer day! As NBC’s Craig Melvin noted: Looks like the fourth one will get it. July, Independence Day, has taken on a new meaning. It’s a marker now. That’s right. On the fourth. The country will be back to some semblance of normalcy by July, at least according to Biden. Now he has to make good on that promise or hang the date around his neck like a political anchor – a ridiculous promise by Trump that we will be back to normal on Easter Sunday 2020.
7. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best thing: This sentence… spoken by Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman) in Shawshank Redemption, came to mind during Biden’s speech. (Maybe it’s because Shawshank was trending on Twitter when Biden spoke). Yes, Biden used his speech to detail the losses we suffered – individually and collectively – as a result of Covid-19. But he also spoke of a bright future that lay in our hands, as long as we continued to work together. There is hope and light and better days ahead, Biden said at the end of his speech, and the image that came to mind was of Red walking on that beach in Zihuatanejo while Andy was working on his boat. What a beautiful moment.