I had thought to do a little compare-and-contrast between the Thanksgiving address delivered by President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday and the comments made by the outgoing president yesterday, but I’ve reconsidered. Trump’s petulant outbursts already get more than their fair share of media attention, and I personally can’t wait to never have to hear from him again, so I’m going to focus on someone who knows how to be presidential.
As I’ve said before, Biden isn’t always the greatest of speakers. There were times in his Thanksgiving speech when it sounded like he needed a drink of water; his voice had a thick, dry-mouthed hesitation. And there were times when the words were even a bit slurred. (Before anyone starts, I do not believe this is a symptom of any mental impairment; I think he’s just an old man whose voice isn’t what it used to be, and who has to focus hard on suppressing his stutter. I see no sign that he’s any less competent than anyone else, certainly no less so than the current occupant of the White House and, in my opinion, a damn sight better.) But there were also moments when he seemed to catch fire and say exactly what needs to be said in exactly the way it needs to be said.
I know the Republican-held Senate is going to be a huge impediment for him, but I also believe he’s going to try his damnedest to make this country a better place for everyone. Even those who already despise him.
Here are what I consider to be the highlights:
Looking back over our history, you’ll see that it’s been in the most difficult of circumstances that the soul of our nation has been forged.
Now, we find ourselves again facing a long, hard winter. We have fought a nearly year-long battle with a virus in this nation. It’s brought us pain and loss and frustration, and it has cost so many lives. 260,000 Americans — and counting.
It has divided us. Angered us. And set us against one another. I know the country has grown weary of the fight. But we need to remember we’re at a war with a virus — not with each other.
This is the moment where we need to steel our spines, redouble our efforts, and recommit ourselves to the fight. Let’s remember — we are all in this together.
For so many of us, it’s hard to hear that this fight isn’t over, that we still have months of this battle ahead of us. And for those who have lost loved ones, I know this time of year is especially difficult. Believe me, I know. I remember that first Thanksgiving. The empty chair, the silence. It takes your breath away. It’s hard to care. It’s hard to give thanks. It’s hard to look forward. And it’s so hard to hope.
Our country is in the middle of a dramatic spike in cases. We’re now averaging over 160,000 new cases a day. And no one will be surprised if we hit 200,000 cases in a single day. Many local health systems are at risk of being overwhelmed. That is the plain and simple truth, and I believe you deserve to always hear the truth from your president.
We have to try to slow the growth of the virus. We owe that to the doctors, the nurses, and the other front-line health care workers who have risked so much and heroically battled this virus for so long. We owe that to our fellow citizens who will need access to hospital beds and the care to fight this disease. And we owe it to one another — it’s our patriotic duty as Americans.
That means wearing masks, keeping social distancing, and limiting the size of any groups we’re in. Until we have a vaccine, these are our most effective tools to combat the virus. Starting on Day One of my presidency, we will take steps that will change the course of the disease.
The federal government has vast powers to combat this virus. And I commit to you I will use all those powers to lead a national coordinated response. But the federal government can’t do it alone. Each of us has a responsibility in our own lives to do what we can to slow the virus. Every decision we make matters. Every decision we make can save a life.
None of these steps we’re asking people to take are political statements. Every one of them is based in science.
The good news is that there has been significant, record-breaking progress made recently in developing a vaccine. Several of these vaccines look to be extraordinarily effective. And it appears that we are on track for the first immunizations to begin by late December or early January. Then, we will need to put in place a distribution plan to get the entire country immunized as soon as possible, which we will do.
But it’s going to take time.
I’m hoping the news of a vaccine will serve as an incentive to every American to take these simple steps to get control of this virus. There is real hope, tangible hope. So hang on. Don’t let yourself surrender to the fatigue. I know we can and we will beat this virus. America is not going to lose this war. You will get your lives back. Life is going to return to normal. That will happen.
This will not last forever.
I’ve said it many times: This is a great country and we are a good people. This is the United States of America. And there has never been anything we haven’t been able to do when we’ve done it together.
Think of what we’ve come through: centuries of human enslavement; a cataclysmic Civil War; the exclusion of women from the ballot box; World Wars; Jim Crow; a long twilight struggle against Soviet tyranny that could have ended not with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in nuclear Armageddon.
I’m not naïve. I know that history is just that: history. But to know what’s come before can help arm us against despair. Knowing the previous generations got through the same universal human challenges that we face: the tension between selfishness and generosity, between fear and hope, between division and unity.
Americans dream big.
And, as hard as it may seem this Thanksgiving, we are going to dream big again. Our future is bright. In fact, I have never been more optimistic about the future of America than I am right now. I believe the 21st Century is going to be an American Century.
We are going to build an economy that leads the world. We are going to lead the world by the power of our example — not the example of our power. We are going to lead the world on climate and save the planet. We are going to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s and diabetes. And we are going to finally root out systemic racism in our country.
On this Thanksgiving, and in anticipation of all the Thanksgivings to come, let us dream again. Let us commit ourselves to thinking not only of ourselves but of others. For if we care for one another — if we open our arms rather than brandish our fists — we can, with God’s help, heal.
[Bolded emphasis mine.]
That’s how a president should speak. Not spitting out nuggets of sarcasm that drip with contempt for one’s political opponents. And definitely not displaying tone-deaf indifference for the suffering of American citizens. “I understand” are the two most powerful words in this seven-minute speech. And I believe that he does understand, I believe his empathy for ordinary people is real. And I believe that that matters, and that it’s what we need right now. Not only because of the virus, but because of the corrosive partisanship that has been consuming our society for decades.
I’ll confess that I’m dubious about Biden’s ability to do much about that. I know the Republicans aren’t interested in playing nice, and I think one of Obama’s biggest failings was continuing to believe that they would someday come around and be willing to work with him. And I’ll further confess that I am angry right now, every damn day, and that I want to see some real consequences for the havoc and chaos of the last four years. I want the Trump administration, the Trump organization, the Trump family, and every single Republican congressperson and bureaucrat who enabled them investigated to within an inch of their lives, and then I want them indicted and punished for any and every transgression that can be made to stick. I want the Republicans punished. I want payback for how they treated Obama and Merrick Garland, and for all their gloating and smug triumphalism and the constant mewling that they’re somehow being persecuted when they’ve effectively held the reins of power for years, regardless of who was sitting in the Oval Office. I know that what I’m saying here isn’t very high-minded or intellectual, and I know it’s not conducive to healing anything. But I’m not the president-elect, now, am I? We’ll see what actually happens once his administration gets going; I have a hunch that Biden is smart enough to be the diplomat while letting others be the bulldogs.
Of course, I’m always a sucker for the stuff about how people are essentially good and all the problems we’re going to fix, even though it’s pretty hard to still believe in my Star Trek-ian ideals after the last 12 years of tribal rancor. But I still like to hear it, even if it’s just a nice fantasy.
The moment in this speech that really grabbed me, though, was his exhortation to not lose hope about the damn virus. To hang on just a little longer, because we will win the war against the coronavirus. That his administration will win the battle. This struck me as very good politics, selling his goals and reminding people that the current guy has utterly failed, while also doing what the best presidents, from Obama to JFK to FDR to Abraham Lincoln, have always done in times of turmoil and fear: to give the tired and anxious people of the nation a life raft to cling to. His words made me feel better. They provided me at least with badly needed comfort.
He’s already a better leader than the thin-skinned, belligerent fool he’s replacing.