7 takeaways from Joe Biden’s prime-time Covid-19 speech

My findings from Biden’s speech, which lasted just over 20 minutes, are listed below. They are in no order other than the order I wrote them down while watching the speech.

1. Donald Trump dug the hole: Biden did not mention his predecessor by name, but especially in the early moments of his speech it was very clear that the current president bears much of the blame for the country’s struggles with the coronavirus pandemic at the feet of the previous president. “A year ago we got a virus that hit silence and spread uncontrollably and denied it for days, weeks, then months,” Biden once said. “It led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness.” At another point, Biden pulled out his mask and was amazed that it had turned into some kind of political statement.

2. The return of the empathy: Biden made a single gesture in the speech that demonstrated the empathy with which he works vis a vis lost life due to this pandemic. He pulled a card out of his jacket pocket – which he supposedly always has with him – and read the exact, current number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus. (This number is more than 527,000.) Yeah, of course Biden did that for a dramatic effect. But it worked. And it brought home the idea that this is a guide that literally holds in their hearts those who have died from the pandemic. It also provided a not-so-subtle contrast to Trump’s overt politicization of the virus and those who had succumbed to it.

3. At war with the virus: In the language he chose – and in the comparisons he made – Biden wanted to make it clear to Americans that we are at war with Covid-19. He said the country was “on a war basis”. He noted that Covid-19 had now killed more Americans than World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined. Even when quoting “Farewell to Arms” – “many are strong in the broken lands” – Biden referred to Ernest Hemingway’s novel about World War I. The message was clear: this is not an enemy the United States is used to fighting. But it is an enemy nonetheless, and the need for sacrifice and unity is as great as it was when America fought against the Axis powers.

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4. Truth is important: Again, according to No. 1, Trump was not mentioned by name in this speech, but he was all about that. “We know what to do to fight this virus. Tell the truth, follow the science, work together,” Biden once said, a direct charge against Trump’s rejection of facts and science about the coronavirus over the course of the year Year 2020 campaign. “You owe nothing less than the truth,” Biden said elsewhere. And even when Biden made a largely optimistic comment about a return to normal – more on that below – he was open and transparent that things could go sideways, that variants of the virus are out there, and that if proper mitigation practices are not followed we could expect a further increase.

5. UNIT: At the most remarkable moment of the night, the President of the United States stared into the camera lens and said to the American people, “I need you.” Then he said it again: “I need you.” (The Scott Wilson of the Washington Post called it the “most memorable and unusual appeal in the prime-time speech of the president”.) Repeatedly in the speech, Biden spoke about the power of the “we” in overcoming Covid-19. He talked about the need to find a “common purpose”. He said that “fighting this virus and returning to normal depends on national unity”. And the “I need every American to do their part.” The idea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAmerica coming together to do this was in stark contrast to the Trump presidency, in which the 45th president – via the coronavirus to racial immigration – tried to emphasize what divides us and not our common humanity. “This is the United States of America and there is nothing we cannot do if we do it together,” Biden said in the final moments of his speech.
6th district July 4th: Biden said that by Independence Day “there is a good chance … you will be able to meet and cook or grill in your yard.” It has never sounded better hanging out in my backyard with a bunch of friends on what was probably a muggy DC summer day! As noted by NBC’s Craig Melvin: “Well, it seems that July 4th, Independence Day, is taking on a new meaning. It’s a marker now.” That is exactly right. July 4th is now the day – or around the day – that the country will return to normal appearances, at least according to Biden. Now he has to keep this promise or let the date hang around his neck like a political anchor – a la Trump’s ridiculous promise that we will get back to normal on Easter Sunday 2020.
7th “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best”: That line Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) spoke to Red (Morgan Freeman) on “The Shawshank Redemption” kept popping up in my head during Biden’s speech. (Maybe it’s because “Shawshank” was trending on Twitter around the same time Biden was speaking!) Biden used his speech to detail the losses we suffered – individually and collectively – from Covid-19 describe. But he also pointed to a hopeful future that we had within reach as long as we continued to work together. “There is hope and light and better days,” Biden said towards the end of the address – and the image that came to my mind was Red is walking this beach in Zihuatanejo while Andy works on his boat. What a beautiful moment.
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