WILMINGTON, Delaware—For four years, America has been a nation at war with itself. But on Saturday night, President-elect Joe Biden encouraged the tens of millions of Americans watching to set aside “the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses.”
“Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now,” Biden told a jubilant crowd in Wilmington, Delaware, hours after the race for president was finally called. “It’s time for our better angels to prevail.”
In a victory speech emphasizing the message of national unity and a restoration of common decency that animated his entire campaign, Biden pledged to be a president who will unify the nation behind a common goal—and not to treat his opponents as enemies.
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again,” Biden said. “But to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as our enemies. They are not our enemies—they are Americans.”
One division, however, remains unhealed. Unmentioned in Biden’s remarks was opponent President Donald Trump, who has so far refused to concede the race and who has defiantly vowed to fight any results that do not guarantee him a second term. Biden reached out to Trump’s supporters, though not by name, to become part of “the broadest and most diverse coalition in history.”
Earlier in the day, Biden privately shared his hopes for outreach to the president’s supporters with his campaign staff, telling them in a video that he urged them to reach out to people with Trump signs in their yards.
“Reach out to them,” Biden said. “Tell them, ‘this isn’t personal, this is about getting together and restoring the basic values we’ve had for generations and generations here in America.’”
“The rest of the country is looking to us, the rest of the world is looking to us,” Biden added. “So we’re going to make sure that both the county is moving toward being united and the world that’s in disarray, the message is, America’s back.”
The diversity of that coalition, Biden said, is what led to the election of the first Black woman of South Asian descent to the vice presidency—with whom he shared a double-fistbump after she introduced him—and what saved his political future after a series of blistering losses in the Democratic primaries left him on the verge of losing his third race for the White House.
“The African American community stood up for me,” Biden said, pounding his fists against the lectern with each syllable, to raucous cheers from the crowd of nearly 400 vehicles assembled in a socially distant victory party. “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours!”
Biden’s address, like most victory speeches, was lighter on policy—but he did pledge to make addressing the coronavirus pandemic that has upended the nation his first order of business as president, and as president-elect.
“We cannot restore the economy, our vitality or relish life's most precious moments—hugging our grandchildren, children, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the matters that matter most to us—until we get it on control,” Biden said, pleading to create a transition team dedicated to planning a COVID-19 response for the first day of his presidency. “I will spare no effort, none, or any commitment to turn around this pandemic.”
Diverse supporters started to gather excitedly well before Biden was slated to walk outside onto the national stage for the first time as president-elect. The eruptions of cheering that started earlier in the afternoon reverberated through the night as people waited for both leaders of the Democratic ticket to emerge victoriously.
Attendees assembled outdoors wore appropriate masks—although not with a great deal of social distancing—along with their jackets, sweatshirts, and campaign garb, acknowledging the seriousness of COVID-19, an ever-present factor in the former vice president’s campaign for three quarters of a year.
As the hour neared closer to Biden’s arrival after 8 p.m., it was almost déjà vu. The Saturday night setup offered similar atmospherics to Election Day here in Wilmington, before the week of ballot-counting kept millions of Americans up in a state of prolonged anticipation.
Row after row of red, white, and blue cars jammed up the front of the Chase Center’s familiar parking lot, spotlit by stadium-like beams and cameras hoisted on risers. The colors were enhanced by a particularly clear night. Just like on Tuesday, talking-heads commentary shown through projector screens was drowned out by a soundtrack of greatest hits, moving through the generations and genres to reach a broad audience.
As music streamed, one man delicately balanced a pole affixed to an American flag on his shoulder, as if he were putting a collective country weight behind him.
Awaiting Biden, the audience experienced something adjacent to a restorative rally and a rock concert. A long tribute of “Where Is The Love” by the Black Eyed Peas mashed with Biden’s words moved the crowd to sway with blue light sticks. More upbeat tunes followed in the rotation.
When Harris arrived to much fanfare, walking out to Mary J. Blige’s “Work That,” she was met with loud, sustained beeps and screams after saying “you chose Joe Biden” as the next president. Seconds later, the honks and claps intensified following her message that Black women in the country are “the backbone” of democracy.
Harris, whose rise has shattered historic racial and gender barriers in American politics, acknowledged that her path to the vice presidency rests on the shoulders of women who came before her—as other women will someday stand on hers.
“I am thinking about her,” Harris said of her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, “and about the generations of women, Black women, Asian, white, Latina, Native American women, who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment—women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality and liberty and justice for all.”
Biden, only the nation’s second Catholic president, concluded his address to the nation by quoting the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings,” a hymn that, he said, “captures the faith that sustains me and which I believe sustains America.”
“And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, and make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of his hand,” Biden said, moments before the sky lit with fireworks and coordinated drones afire with “46” and “PRESIDENT-ELECT” racing across the dark sky. “And now together, on eagles’ wings, we embark on the work that God and history have called us to do with full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and each other.”