Biden triumphs, pledges to ‘restore America’s soul’

The chaotic, bitter and frequently surreal Trump era is over. Joseph R Biden Jr will be the 46th president of the United States, after vote-counting in the key battleground of Pennsylvania delivered the Democrats an Electoral College majority.

The result early today (Saturday US time) also represents a historic moment for the nation, with Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, to become the first woman and first person of colour to serve as vice president.

“The people of this nation have spoken,” declared 77-year-old Biden, in an energetic victory speech from his home state in Delaware.

“They’ve delivered us a convincing victory. A clear victory.”

Biden, who was also declared the winner in closely-fought Nevada, struck a conciliatory tone. “I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but to unify,” he said.

“I sought this office to restore the soul of America … to make America respected around the world again.”

Harris, who wore a white pantsuit in a nod to the women’s suffrage movement, told the nation: “You ushered in a new day for America.”

The daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants paid tribute to the hard work and sacrifice of generations of women before her who “paved the way for this moment tonight”.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. Because every little girl watching here tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities … Our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction.”

The wins in previously Republican Pennsylvania and Nevada gave Biden an unassailable lead, and followed a nail-biting four days since polls closed on Tuesday evening US time.

An early strong showing by Trump evaporated as early and postal votes were counted, tilting the likely result in the Democrats’ favour.

Biden also remains ahead in Arizona and Georgia, although the latter may well go to a re-count.

Despite Biden’s clear victory, President Trump and some senior Republicans continued to argue today that the election was not yet lost.

Trump – the first president to lose office after one term in more than a quarter of a century and only the third since the Second World War – vowed to press ahead with legal challenges to the voting and counting process.

As he insisted that “this election is far from over”, street demonstrations by his supporters in a number of cities led to scuffles and other minor violent incidents.

But in New York City, Washington DC and other cities across the country, there were jubilant celebrations as Biden supporters banged pots and pans, danced in the street and honked their car horns.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was among world leaders offering early congratulations.

Morrison said his government welcomed “the president-elect’s commitment to multilateral institutions and strengthening democracies”.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted:

“Congratulations Joe Biden and Kamala Harris! What a relief that you won.”

Malcolm Turnbull

Biden’s nearly 75 million votes thus far are the most ever won by a US presidential candidate, surpassing the record set by Barack Obama in 2008.

But Obama’s record has also been broken by Trump’s 70 million-plus votes, illustrating the latter’s continuing support, particularly among white and rural voters.

Pundits have attributed Biden’s win to his successful appeal to urban, suburban, black and female voters. He managed to rebuild the “blue wall” of Democrat states in the post-industrial northern Mid-West.

It was the third presidential bid for Biden, who was elected a senator 48 years ago and served two terms as Obama’s vice-president.

Harris described him today as “a healer, a uniter, a tested and steady hand”.

Biden told the nation: “It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric. To lower the temperature. To see each other again. To listen to each other again.”

He spoke of the “great battles” that lay ahead: to control Covid-19, build prosperity, secure healthcare, “save the climate”, and “achieve racial justice and root out systematic racism in this country”.

“Our work begins with getting Covid under control,” Biden said, adding that he would on Monday name a group of leading scientists and experts to formulate an action plan, to begin the moment he is inaugurated on 20 January.

“I will spare no effort or commitment to turn this pandemic around.”

The election followed a tumultuous year that included an unsuccessful attempt to impeach Trump, deep divisions over Covid-19, which has claimed nearly 240,000 lives in the US, and Black Lives Matters protests across the country following the death of African-American man George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Trump today accused Biden of “rushing to falsely pose as the winner”, and said his team would go to court on Monday “to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated”.

But amid the noisy celebrations in the US and beyond, it seemed like increasingly few people were listening.