A few weeks ago, I spoke at Gettysburg about the need to unite our nation. Today, here at Warm Springs, I want to talk about the need to heal our nation.
Over these past few months there has been so much pain, so much suffering, so much loss in America. Over 225,000 people have lost their lives to a virus.
Many of these lives lost in the cruelest way possible. Alone. Alone in a hospital room. Alone in a nursing home. No family. No friends. No loved ones beside them in those final moments.
It haunts so many of the surviving families, families who were never given the chance to say goodbye. I know how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens up in your chest.
The tragic truth of our time is that COVID has left a deep and lasting wound in this country.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. We see the empty store fronts and the shuttered businesses. The visible signs of lost hopes and broken dreams.
But what we don’t see is all those parents staring at the ceiling late at night, wondering how they’re going to pay the mortgage – how they’re going to pay the rent – what are they going to do if one of their kids gets sick now that they’ve lost their health insurance?
Growing up I watched my father struggle to find work. He made what I call the longest walk any parent can make: up a short flight of stairs to tell their child you can’t play on that Little League team anymore. You can’t go back to your school. We can’t stay here in Scranton anymore. We have to move. There are good jobs in Delaware. And when I get one — I’ll come back for you and your sister and your brother and your mom.
My father always said that a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity, your respect, your place in the community.
Right now, on this autumn afternoon — millions of Americans all across this country feel they have lost all that. A season of protest has broken out all across the nation. Some of it is just senseless burning and looting and violence that can’t be tolerated, and it won’t.
But much of it is a cry for justice from communities that have long had the knee of injustice on their neck. The names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake will not soon be forgotten. Not by me. Not by us. Not by this country. They’re going to inspire a new wave of justice in America.
These are all historic, painful crises. The insidious virus. Economic anguish. Systemic discrimination. Any one of them could have rocked a nation. Yet we’ve been hit by all three at once.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, the pain striking at the heart of our country goes back not months, but years.
Our politics has for far too long been mean, bitter, and divisive. We’ve stopped seeing the dignity in one another. We’ve stopped showing each other respect.
Too many among us spend more time shouting than listening. More time fighting than working together. More time demonizing and denigrating others than lifting them up. The divisions in our nation are getting wider. Anger and suspicion are growing. Our wounds are getting deeper. And many wonder: has it gone too far? Have we passed the point of no return? Has the heart of this nation been turned to stone?
I don’t think so. I refuse to believe it. I know this country. I know our people. And I know we can unite and heal this nation.
Warm Springs is a good place to talk about hope and healing. This is where Franklin Roosevelt came ‘to use the therapeutic waters’ to rebuild himself.
Stricken by the polio virus in 1921, he suffered from paralysis. Like so many other Americans in those pre-vaccine decades, FDR longed to live an independent life, a life that wasn’t defined by his illness. To him, and to so many others facing physical challenges, Warm Springs offered therapy for the body and for the soul.
But it offered something else. FDR came looking for a cure, but it was the lessons he learned here that he used to lift a nation. Humility. Empathy. Courage. Optimism. This place represented a way forward. A way of restoration. Of resilience. Of healing.
In the years that followed, FDR would come back to Warm Springs often to think about how to heal the nation and the world. And that’s what he did. Lifting us out of the Great Depression. Defeating tyranny. Saving democracy.
Then, it was here on April 12, 1945 that President Roosevelt died, a casualty of war as surely as any who fell in combat.
The Free World mourned. America’s leaders wept. Maybe even more important was the reaction of the American people. Naval Chief Petty Officer Graham Jackson, a Black man, cried as he played his accordion in tribute to FDR not far from here. And the story is told that when FDR’s funeral procession went by, a man collapsed in grief.
A neighbor asked him, ‘Did you know the president?’ ‘No,’ the man said. ‘But he knew me.’ ‘But he knew me.’ Few words better describe the kind of president our nation needs right now.
A president who’s in it not for himself, but for others. A president who doesn’t divide us — but unites us. A president who appeals not to the worst in us — but to the best. A president who cares less about his TV ratings — and more about the American people.A president who looks not to settle scores — but to find solutions.
A president guided not by wishful thinking — but by science, reason, and fact. That’s the kind of president I will be. I’m running as a proud Democrat. But I will govern as an American president. I will work with Democrats and Republicans and I will work as hard for those who don’t support me as for those who do. That’s the job of a president. It’s a duty of care for everyone.
This place, Warm Springs, is a reminder that though broken, each of us can be healed. That as a people and a country, we can overcome a devastating virus. That we can heal a suffering world. That yes, we can restore our soul and save our country.
In his last hours, President Roosevelt was at work on a speech to be delivered the next day. In it he was to say: ‘Today… we must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world at peace.’
To live together and work together. That’s how I see America. That’s how I see the presidency, and that’s how I see the future. I tell you this from my heart. I believe in an America of hope, not fear. Of unity, not division. Of love, not hate.
The presidency, though, is only one part of the American chorus. History isn’t only a story of the great and the famous. No – our history is the story of We the People. Of all of us. Together.
I have long said the story of America is the story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Change in our country comes when the voices of the powerless reach the ears of the powerful. People whose names we’ll never know, but who risked their lives to, in the words of Dr. King, bend the ‘arc of the moral universe…toward justice.’
Bending that arc is the work of our time. But it will take all of us. Red States and Blue States, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. And I believe we can do it. Why? Because we are the United States of America and there’s nothing — nothing — that the American people can’t do when we put our minds to it.
When news of FDR’s death went out on the wires, an editor in Chicago turned to his colleagues and said, ‘Clear the decks for action.’ So — I say to you today: If you give me the honor of serving as your President, clear the decks for action, for we will act.
We will act on the first day of my presidency to get COVID under control. We will act to pass my economic plan that will finally reward work — not wealth — in this country. We will act to pass my health care plan to provide affordable, accessible health care to every American.
We will act to pass the Biden climate plan, meeting the challenge of the climate crisis while creating millions of new, high-paying union jobs. We will act to address systemic racism in our country. We will act to give working people a fair shot again in this country.
And we will act to restore our faith in democracy and in each other.
Today we are facing a public health crisis of historic proportions, and with winter at hand, it’s getting worse. Just last Friday, 83,000 cases nationwide. Saturday — another 83,000 cases. Nearly 1,000 people a day are dying. Another 200,000 deaths are expected over the next few months.
And the president keeps telling us not to worry. He keeps telling us ‘we’re turning the corner’. It’s as removed from reality and as offensive as when he told us the virus ‘affects virtually nobody.’ Just the elderly as if they don’t matter. Or when he said in response to the number of deaths in the nation, ‘it is what it is’.
Well, it is what it is because he is who he is. In the spring the President declared that as commander in chief he was going to wage war on the virus. Instead, he’s shrugged. He’s swaggered. And he’s surrendered. And then his Chief of Staff makes a stunning admission. Saying, quote, ‘we’re not going to control the pandemic.’ ‘We’re not going to control the pandemic’.
It’s a capitulation — a waving of the white flag. And it’s a window into a shocking truth about this White House. They never even tried.
Think about all the front-line health professionals who have risked their lives for nine months in this pandemic. Think about all the first responders. Think about all the grocery store workers and delivery truck drivers and teachers and parents with their kids home from school. Think about all those who have lost their jobs. Think about all those who have been infected by this virus. Think about all those who have died. They were giving their all while their president was giving up.
Well, I’m here to tell you we can and will get control of this virus. As president, I will never wave the white flag of surrender. Just imagine where we would be today with a president who had embraced wearing a mask instead of mocking it?
Imagine where we would be with a president who practiced social distancing instead of holding super spreader events? Imagine where we would be with a comprehensive system for testing and tracing?
I first put forward a detailed plan on how to deal with the virus in March. This administration ignored it. Then I released several more detailed plans in the months that followed. The most recent just last week. This administration has yet to offer a single plan. It’s just one reason that one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, the New England Journal of Medicine, called this president ‘dangerously incompetent’ — saying he had turned a crisis into a tragedy.
I’m ready to act. We know what to do. And starting on Day One of my presidency, we will do it. I’ve talked about the battle for the soul of America since the very beginning of this campaign. And I want to be very clear in these closing days about what I mean. And about what I intend to do in the battle to assure that our better angels prevail over our worst instincts.
I believe this election is about who we are as a nation, what we believe — and maybe most importantly — who we want to be. It is about our essence. It’s about what makes us Americans. It’s that fundamental.
Time and again throughout our history, we have seen the Charlatans, the Con-Men, the phony Populists — who have sought to play to our fears, appeal to our worst appetites, and pick at the oldest scabs we have for their own political gain. They appear when the nation has been hit the hardest and we’re at our most vulnerable. Never to solve anything. Always to benefit themselves.
In his recent encyclical Pope Francis warns us against this phony populism that appeals to the ‘basest and most selfish’ instincts. Then he says this: ‘Politics is something more noble than posturing, marketing and media spin. These sow nothing but division, conflict and a bleak cynicism…’ For those who seek to lead, ‘we do well to ask ourselves’: ‘Why I am doing this?’ ‘What is my real aim?’
Pope Francis has asked questions that anyone who seeks to lead this great nation should answer. And my answer is this: To unite this nation. To heal this nation. The Bible tells us that there is a time to break down, and a time to build up. And a time to heal. This is that time.
God and history have called us to this moment and to this mission: With our voices and our votes, we must free ourselves from the forces of darkness, from the forces of division, and from the forces of yesterday — from the forces that pull us apart, hold us down, and hold us back. And if we do so, we will once more become one nation, under God, indivisible.
A nation united. A nation strengthened. A nation healed. That is my goal. That is what we must do. Thank you. May God bless America. May God protect our troops.