After several months of social media blabber and constant news clammer about permutations and probabilities, the world finally slept with clarity regarding the result of the 46th U.S. Presidential election.
Three hours before writing this, President Elect-Biden and Vice President Elect Harris addressed the nation from the Chase Center in Delaware amid applauses, car-horns, and tweet-storms.
In this piece, I am conducting a magnified analysis of the President Elect’s triumphant speech from the riverfront to the world’s screens.
The first shot of Biden was wearing a mask and jogging towards the stage after Harris’ invitation. As he ran with confident strides (literally), he seemed to be smashing through the glass-wall of the “Sleepy-Joe” smear campaign. The short-run up represented vitality, will and enthusiasm to take up one of the toughest jobs in the world during one of the toughest times of this generation.
“My fellow Americans, the people of this nation have spoken.
They have delivered us a clear victory. A convincing victory.
A victory for “We the People.”
We have won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket in the history of this nation — 74 million.”
In the first of many, this election was undermined by President Trump’s constant commentary undermining the legitimacy of the election. By beginning his speech with the words “clear”, “convincing” and “great”, Biden reaffirmed the power of the ballot and legitimized its result.
“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify.
Who doesn’t see red and blue states, but a United States.”
“I sought this office to restore the soul of America.”
“To rebuild the backbone of the nation — the middle class.”
Biden, time and again, claimed that he would be the President for all; and not just for the Blue states of otherwise. In these times of unprecedented polarity, he reaffirmed that his promise does not change. Further, he used the phrase “not to divide, but to unify” to highlight some key challenges and events during the preceding administration. Without attacking Trump or even mentioning him, he upped his ante by using one of the most subtle yet strong phrases I have ever heard in a President-elect speech, “restore the soul”. This addresses the Trump’s presidency as one which not just at the surface but at its core shook the ideal’s of American democracy. It was a sentence which, I believe, deserved a longer pause than to be dissolved in a string of repetitive rhetoric.
“As I said many times before, I’m Jill’s husband.
I would not be here without the love and tireless support of Jill, Hunter, Ashley, all of our grandchildren and their spouses, and all of our family.
They are my heart.
Jill’s a mom — a military mom — and an educator.”
These words are a relieving recall of the Obama Presidency where the FLOTUS was often addressed as an equal stakeholder by President Obama. “I am Jill’s husband” is a strong phrase highlighting the power of women that Biden also represented by appointing a woman as his running-mate. The empowerment of women, education and the military have been important and emotionally driven issues in most elections, and Biden addressed them immediately, demonstrating his personal attachment to each of them.
It is also worthwhile to note that Biden has barely smiled so far in his speech, however, and has kept his tone casual. He projected his voice with power as a testimony to his energy and passion.
“And I will be honored to be serving with a fantastic vice president — Kamala Harris — who will make history as the first woman, first Black woman, first woman of South Asian descent, and first daughter of immigrants ever elected to national office in this country. DON’T TELL ME IT’S NOT POSSIBLE IN THE UNITED STATES.
It’s long overdue, and we’re reminded tonight of all those who fought so hard for so many years to make this happen. But once again, America has bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.”
The President-Elect raised his volume and pitch to announce the next big stride for the fairness and equality of black people and immigrants. He also subtly but surely referred to the historical struggle for this with his phrase “It’s long overdue” His casual hand-wave from right to left while talking about bending the arc of the universe towards justice may or may not have been a co-incidence with his party’s political inclination.
“Kamala, Doug — like it or not — you’re family. You’ve become honorary Bidens and there’s no way out.”
Biden finally resorted to some humour after his power-packed speech this far and flashed his classic Hollywood smirk. Can we highlight this as the Vice President Elect’s first achievement after this election? (Pretty-please?) This is also a welcome change after some cold power dynamics in the White House in the last four years. Joe constantly highlights the importance of family. “Family” is and will remain a powerful emotional trigger for every other Joe and Jane.
“And to all those who supported us: I am proud of the campaign we built and ran. I am proud of the coalition we put together, the broadest and most diverse in history.
Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
Progressives, moderates and conservatives.
Young and old.
Urban, suburban and rural.
Gay, straight, transgender.
White. Latino. Asian. Native American.
And especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest — the African-American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
You don’t get to be the highest voted President Elect in history without striking a chord with the majority and the minorities alike. Biden conveyed his gratitude by thanking each kind of voter and drove this no-pause string of sentences to its crescendo by banging the lecture four times to acknowledge the African-American community. It was a well-deserved highlight because let’s face it – after the events of the past year, these brothers and sisters could use some more love.
“And to those who voted for President Trump, I understand your disappointment tonight.
I’ve lost a couple of elections myself.
But now, let’s give each other a chance.
It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric.
To lower the temperature.
To see each other again.
To listen to each other again.”
More than 71 Million people voted for President Trump. That is a sizable angry population to manage. Biden connected their loss to him personally and asked for them to be cool through his euphemism “to lower the temperature”. I hope that the proud boys who have been standing back and standing by will learn from this speech to see (empathize) with each other again.
“The battle to control the virus.
The battle to build prosperity.
The battle to secure your family’s health care.
The battle to achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country.
The battle to save the climate.
The battle to restore decency, defend democracy, and give everybody in this country a fair shot.
Our work begins with getting Covid under control.”
Biden abundantly used the rhetorical tool of repetition multiple times to enhance the impact of his speech. The clearest example of this was when he highlighted his clear agenda for the next four years. He rehashed the importance of controlling the virus by addressing it at the beginning as well as at the end of his mandate list. He uses the word “battle” because it is indeed an uphill climb given that the country touched its highest cases in a single day just after election night. Further, getting the economy back on track, bolstering healthcare reforms, ensuring fairness for all communities and to heal the planet beginning with opting back in to the Paris Agreement are all challenging and urgent goals. It is noteworthy that he used the word “decency” twice in the course of a minute to address the lack of it during the previous four years. Is he the only President Elect speech to repeat this word within a minute? Anybody up to wager $10?
“We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life’s most precious moments — hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us — until we get this virus under control.
On Monday, I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisers to help take the Biden-Harris Covid plan and convert it into an action blueprint that starts on Jan. 20, 2021.”
Biden shifted from sixth to first gear as he swooped down from addressing a national and international agenda to talking about simple pleasure of life. Here, he outlined his first micro action-point of attacking the virus and stood by his claim of “I will listen to science”.
“Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end — here and now.”
Here goes my vote for the second-strongest statement delivered in this speech. Biden took a non-linear pause before “demonization”, dipped his pitch with emotion before “America”, and raised his voice while harshly hitting his index finger on the lectern when he said “here and now”. In this one-line, he used classic non-verbal rhetorical tools to smash this statement out of the park.
“The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control.
It’s a decision. It’s a choice we make.
And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate. I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate.
That’s the choice I’ll make. And I call on the Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — to make that choice with me.”
One of the highlights of Joe Biden’s political career has been to broker cooperation between the Democrats and Republicans for important policy decisions. The downward spiral of life and the economy caused by the virus and other factors will require efficient decision-making of the Congress and Biden ensured that he tables it as an important agenda for his term as President.
“America has always been shaped by inflection points — by moments in time where we’ve made hard decisions about who we are and what we want to be.
Lincoln in 1860 — coming to save the Union.
F.D.R. in 1932 — promising a beleaguered country a New Deal.
J.F.K. in 1960 — pledging a New Frontier.
And 12 years ago — when Barack Obama made history — and told us, “Yes, we can.”
We stand again at an inflection point.”
By quoting the examples of Republicans as well as Democratic presidents who changed the course of the nation in the past, Biden not only revalidated his statements regarding cooperation but also reminded the people that this is no ordinary time and that it will take contemporary and bold steps to heal the nation. The statement was a fine balance of emphasizing the challenge and calling upon the nation’s pedigree to trust themselves to emerge better and stronger.
“In the last days of the campaign, I’ve been thinking about a hymn that means a lot to me and to my family, particularly my deceased son, Beau. It captures the faith that sustains me and which I believe sustains America.
And I hope it can provide some comfort and solace to the more than 230,000 families who have lost a loved one to this terrible virus this year. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. Hopefully this hymn gives you solace as well.”
The final sections of the speech tapers towards religion and spirituality. The President-Elect empathizes with the grief of those families who lost a loved one due to COVID and remembers his son, Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer in 2015. He also shares this popular Catholic hymn:
“And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.”
This hymn was composed by the Catholic priest Jan Michael Joncas who wrote it after he found that his friend’s father died of a heart attack. It was also reportedly played at Beau Biden’s funeral service. The complex range of emotions that built up to this speech struck a chord with many Americans, some of whom reportedly got teary-eyed. For me, it was a beautiful crescendo and brought together the final portions of his speech. I cannot help but also see the
This hymn was composed by the Catholic priest Jan Michael Joncas who wrote it after he found that his friend’s father died of a heart attack. It was also reportedly played at Beau Biden’s funeral service. The complex range of emotions that built up to this speech struck a chord with many Americans, some of whom reportedly got teary-eyed. For me, it was a beautiful crescendo and brought together the final portions of his speech. I cannot help but also see the Eagle (America’s national bird) as a metaphor for the rise of the people of America on the wings of the newly formed leadership.
“And now, together — on eagle’s wings — we embark on the work that God and history have called upon us to do.
With full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice — let us be the nation that we know we can be.
A nation united.
A nation strengthened.
A nation healed.
The United States of America.
God bless you.
And may God protect our troops.”
In the final portion of the speech, Biden could have ridden the emotion he stirred, like a wave. However, he seemed to underplay it and also looked distracted in the final sentences of the address. It could well be that the reference to his son and the hymn overwhelmed him with emotion and slightly derailed him. I personally appreciate such authenticity more than a perfect piece of rhetoric. The speech contained no hate references to the incumbent President or government and yet minced no words in highlighting the challenges that remain to be resolved. The shot of Jill and Joe looking up lovingly towards the fire-crackers seemed to remind every American that no dream is impossible and no challenge too difficult to overcome. With this speech, the President said a lot in not so many words and conveyed the impossible message that he is the man to make the changes the country needs, and while he is a citizen and feels pain, loss and grief like fellow Americans; he is no ordinary Joe.
- Script: Matt Stevens (2020) via https://www.nytimes.com/article/biden-speech-transcript.html
- Hymn reference: Hope NGO (2020) via https://www.thelist.com/274924/the-meaning-behind-the-hymn-joe-biden-quoted-during-his-victory-speech