Speaking on the historic site of the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg this week, former Vice President Joe Biden offered his most significant remarks to date in the 2020 Presidential election campaign.
“As president … I will send a clear, unequivocal message to the entire nation. There is no place for hate in America,” Mr. Biden said, standing on a hill with six American flags and the battlefield in the background. “It will be given no licence. It will be given no oxygen.”
It was a stark contrast to the image from two days earlier of President Trump sucking wind after climbing the steps to the Truman Balcony upon his release from Walter Reed Hospital where he was treated for Covid. Once his gasping for air ceased, the President retreated into the White House (no mask, of course) and offered a videotaped message to Americans: “I learned so much about coronavirus. And one thing that’s for certain. Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it.”
Those who have been stricken by the disease were outraged. Despite being personally infected with the virus (and likely infecting scores more), never did Donald Trump express compassion for the 7,000,000 Americans who have contracted the virus or empathy for the 200,000 families whose loved ones have died and who don’t have immediate access to the best free (socialist?) medical care in the world. The President’s message to this wounded and vulnerable population was clear: just tough it out and you’ll be better than ever!
Are you offended? If so, I suggest you settle in, take a breath and watch Joe Biden’s Gettysburg Address. He never mentions Donald Trump, yet the entire speech serves as a reassuring antidote to the White House-driven chaos that has impacted our nation for the past four years. His words are compassionate and caring. He acknowledges those who have suffered from the virus and also from the stain of systemic racism. He offers words of hope that this nation, like the nation in 1863 when the Battle of Gettysburg was originally fought, can overcome its divisions and move forward united. In one obvious example, Biden says, “I do not believe we have to choose between law and order and racial justice in America. We can have both.” Duh! Why is it so hard to profess this?
Biden continued, “there’s something bigger going on in this nation than just our broken politics. Something darker, something more dangerous…Too many Americans seek not to overcome our divisions, but to deepen them…We must seek not to build walls but bridges. We must seek not to have our fists clenched, but our arms open.”
Not surprisingly, as if the whole world were awaiting a return to sanity and stability in American governance, some of the most insightful commentary on the Vice President’s remarks came from overseas. Griffin Connolly writing in The Independent caught the symbolic connection between the place where Joe Biden delivered his remarks, “the eventual Union victory at Gettysburg marked the turning point of the war whose conclusion resulted in the emancipation of enslaved blacks in America” and the import of the remarks themselves where Biden “shelved any talk about specific policy proposals in favour of a more grandiose, yet elemental speech about American ideals.”
Even though there is much uncertainty and hard work ahead, Biden’s address will serve as a signature moment in the current election season as it becomes increasingly apparent to an overwhelming majority that there is really only one choice in the upcoming election. Like the battle that shifted the course of the Civil War, Biden’s address will long outlive the campaign itself and become an enduring tribute to the resilience of a nation riven by divisive rhetoric and devoid of empathy being called back to its “better angels.”