Joe Biden's first speech as president elect is being hailed as a long-overdue call to overcome division. "President-elect Joe Biden seeks to unite nation with victory speech," read the CNN headline the next day. The New York Times summed up: "Mr. Biden renewed his promise to be a president for all Americans in a polarized time."
It is not just the left-leaning press taking at face value Biden's calls to "put away the harsh rhetoric." Conservative pundits are doing so as well. Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn called the speech "Lincolnesque." Biden's unity message was "exactly what the country needed to hear," McGurn wrote. Daily Wire podcast host Ben Shapiro found the speech so pollyannish in its call for reconciliation as to be risible.
And yet Biden's actual remarks were anything but unifying. Among the "great battles of our time" that Biden has now been called to fight, he said, was the still unaccomplished goal of "root[ing] out systemic racism in this country." That "systemic racism" is presumably underwritten by millions of white Americans who continue to prevent "racial justice," in Biden's words. They are the ones who represent what Biden called "our darkest impulses," locked in "constant battle" with our "better angels." It was time—finally—for those better angels to prevail, Biden said.
This indictment of white Americans was a constant theme during the Democratic presidential primaries. In an August 2019 press briefing, Biden claimed that racism was a "white man's problem visited on people of color." "White folks are the reason we have institutional racism," he said. In a January 2019 speech, Biden announced: "We have a lot to root out, but most of all the systematic racism that most of us whites don't like to acknowledge even exists." On Friday, November 6, the day before the press declared Biden the president elect, he was still hammering the racism theme. He had a "mandate" to eliminate "systemic racism," he announced, prefiguring his victory speech the next day.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion. This piece was adapted from City Journal. Follow her on Twitter here.
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