On Saturday night, Joe Biden delivered an arguably premature speech claiming the mantle of president-elect. President Donald Trump is still challenging election results in many states and disturbing reports have surfaced suggesting that human error involving voting machines in Michigan counties has switched thousands of Trump votes for Biden. Even so, Biden claimed a mandate and even declared that by electing him and his running-mate Kamala Harris, Americans have “bent the moral arc of the universe more toward justice.” He also celebrated the large celebratory rallies, despite the pandemic.
“The people of this nation have spoken, they’ve delivered us a clear victory, a convincing victory, a victory for we the people,” Biden declared. By electing him, “America’s bent the arc of the moral universe more towards justice.”
The Democrat repeated his previous pledge to unify Americans. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only the United States,” he said.
Biden addressed Trump supporters, telling them, “I understand the disappointment tonight, I lost a couple of times myself. But now let’s give each other a chance.”
“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again,” he added. “Stop treating our opponents as our enemies.”
He selectively quoted Ecclesiastes 3, noting that “to everything, there is a season.”
“This is a time to heal in America,” Biden declared.
“Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now,” he added. He urged Democrats and Republicans to work together, adding, “I believe that this is part of the mandate given to us by the American people, they want us to cooperate with each other.”
Biden celebrated the large rallies his supporters put on to celebrate his victory, even though the massive gatherings may spread the coronavirus.
He pledged “to martial the forces of science, the forces of hope” to fight the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, to “build prosperity,” to work to “achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country,” and to fight to “save our planet by getting climate under control.”
He compared his as-yet-unverified victory to “inflection points” in American history like Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 victory “promising a beleaguered country a New Deal,” John F. Kennedy’s victory in 1960 (which notoriously involved fraud), and Barack Obama’s 2008 victory.
Despite his reference to “systemic racism,” Biden insisted that America is defined by possibilities and he said, “We’re a good people.”
“It’s always been a bad bet to bet against America,” the Democrat said.
Biden referenced God multiple times in the speech and he concluded with the lyrics of a hymn: “And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of His hand.”
“We embark on the work that God and history have called us to do, with love of country, a thirst for justice, a nation united, a nation strengthened, a nation healed,” he declared.
It is heartening to hear Biden pledge that he will represent all Americans, not just those who voted for him. But despite his soaring rhetoric and his references to God, Biden has condemned religious freedom protections for conservative Christians, Jews, and others who disagree with LGBT activism, saying they give “hate” a “safe harbor.” He has condemned those who disagree with same-sex marriage, saying that some of those who try to “define family” are “the dregs of society.”
Biden has pledged to eradicate the Hyde Amendment, which protects pro-life Americans from funding abortion through their tax dollars. He has pledged to reverse Trump’s religious freedom protections for nuns like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who fought Obamacare’s contraception mandate. Biden has also bragged about the character defamation of Robert Bork, ostensibly because it saved Roe v. Wade (1973)
If Biden wishes to represent Americans who did not vote for him and if he wants to end the “grim era of demonization,” perhaps he should start by ending his own demonization of religious conservatives who disagree with his policies on abortion and LGBT issues.
While Biden aimed for soaring rhetoric with his “arc of the moral universe” line, he actually undercut the message of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous words.
In his sermon at the Temple Israel of Hollywood in 1965, King warned against indifference and violence, and he declared his firm belief that “right here in America we will reach the promised land of brotherhood.” He expressed his faith that the civil rights movement would prevail against segregation because “somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
Many left-leaning activists have twisted this language, claiming that it is up to human beings to “bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has repeatedly used this line. Yet the whole point of King’s statement is that God is ultimately in control, and it is not the job of human beings to “bend the arc of the moral universe.”
Biden exuded reverence in his speech, but his line about the arc of the moral universe actually undercuts God’s authority. If human beings can bend that arc, then King’s faith in the ultimate victory of the civil rights movement was misplaced.
Even in this speech, Biden could not avoid gaffes. In referencing the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic, he said, “230 million — thousand Americans” had died, as if he caught himself in mid-sentence. Biden and his running-mate, Kamala Harris, have repeatedly inflated the death toll using “million” instead of “thousand.”
Finally, while many media outlets have declared Biden the winner, and while he leads in the vote counts in most of the swing states, the results of the election are still premature.
In Michigan, Republicans drew attention to what they thought was a software glitch but ended up being human error that turned 6,000 Trump votes into Biden votes in Antrim County. A similar error in Oakland County switched over 1,200 Republican votes to Democrat. The Michigan legislature announced it would be holding a joint oversight hearing to “ensure the integrity of our state elections.”
On Friday evening before Biden’s speech, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania officials to segregate votes received after 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The Trump campaign has formally requested a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden leads by less than one percent. Republicans in Nevada claim to have discovered 3,000 cases of voter fraud.
It is unlikely that recounts and challenges will reverse Biden’s leads, but it is not impossible.
It would be very awkward indeed if Biden’s leads evaporate after recounts and challenges.
Would that mean Trump has “bent the arc of the moral universe” away from justice?
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.