Incoming US president Joe Biden has made a sobering speech ahead of entering the White House, striking an emotional tone as he seeks to unite the country.
Biden’s vulnerable display would be unthinkable from the man he is replacing, with many supporters on social media celebrating the stark change in leadership styles.
“These are dark times,” Biden told dozens of supporters in an emotional sendoff in his home state of Delaware before departing for Washington.
“But there’s always light.”
The Biden farewell remarks were held at the National Guard/Reserve Centre named after his late son Beau Biden, who served in the military and in politics before he died of brain cancer in 2015.
“My only regret is that he’s not here, because we should be introducing him as president,” the President-elect said.
Echoing a quote from Irish poet James Joyce, Biden nearly broke down as he paid tribute to his home state.
“Excuse the emotion, but when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart,” he said, trying to hold back tears.
‘Empathy back in the White House’
In remarks delivered in Delaware and later in Washington on Tuesday (local time), Biden referenced the scars left behind from recent political violence as well as the country’s poor handling of the pandemic.
Fans and supporters of the new president seized on the moment to highlight the departure from a leader who was defined by his pugnacious rhetoric and constant attacks on opponents.
During his time as president, Donald Trump was often criticised for rarely acknowledging those killed by the coronavirus pandemic nor offering condolences to grieving families – a role historically played by the person occupying the Oval Office during times of tragedy, dating back to the fireside chats of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.
“How comforting is it to have a President with a soul,” Democrat campaigner Lindy Li reacted on Twitter.
“How incredibly beautiful it is to have a leader who can empathise with the people,” one user responded, while others praised the moment as “touching”.
Biden crying is everything
How comforting it is to have a President with a soul
Beau, we did it ♥️
— Lindy Li (@lindyli) January 19, 2021
Whew, Joe Biden crying.
We have a president who feels things again.
— Elizabeth C. McLaughlin, Esq. (@ECMcLaughlin) January 19, 2021
Watched the last half of the Biden farewell in Delaware - extremely touching. I was crying! So nice to have empathy back in the White House. Also, I want to go to that Rabbi's Temple. #Inauguration2021
— Sarah Stierch (@Sarah_Stierch) January 19, 2021
To heal, we ‘must remember’ Covid dead: Biden
At roughly the same time as Biden’s remarks in Delaware, the US reached another grim milestone in the pandemic by surpassing 400,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to a rolling tally by Johns Hopkins University.
After arriving in Washington DC, Biden went directly to an evening ceremony at the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial to honour those who make up America’s unenviable death toll.
He was joined by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris who spoke of the collective anguish of a nation.
“For many months we have grieved by ourselves,” Harris said. “Tonight, we grieve and begin healing together.”
Biden followed with his own brief remarks, telling Americans that “to heal we must remember.”
As Biden spoke with 400 lights representing the pandemic victims illuminated behind him, he faced the statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War president who served as more than 600,000 Americans died.
Inaugural organisers this week finished installing some 200,000 US, state and territorial flags on the National Mall, a display to represent the American people who couldn’t come to the inauguration, the attendance of which is restricted due to tight security and Covid precautions.
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