President Trump has tried every dirty trick in the book — and a few new ones — to cast doubts about the workings of Joe Biden’s brain. But Trump has been focusing on entirely the wrong organ. Biden’s appeal is from the heart.

The Democratic presidential nominee, in the most crucial speech of his long career in public service, had no problem clearing the low bar Trump had set. The evening began with a clip of Biden quoting Kierkegaard and ended with him quoting the Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

But the power of Biden’s acceptance speech — and the power of his candidacy — was in its basic, honest simplicity. The rhetoric wasn’t soaring. The delivery was workmanlike (he botched an Ella Baker quote in his opening line). But it was warm and decent, a soothing, fireside chat for this pandemic era, as we battle twin crises of disease and economic collapse and we only see each other disembodied in boxes on a screen. Biden spoke not to his political base but to those who have lost loved ones to the virus.

Here's what the Biden-Harris Democratic ticket needs to do to keep progressive support, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors says. (The Washington Post)

“On this summer night,” Biden said, his voice growing rough, “let me take a moment to speak to those of you who have lost the most. I have some idea how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens in the middle of your chest, and you feel like you are being sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes. But I have learned two things. First, your loved one may have left this earth, but they will never leave your heart. . . . And second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose. As God’s children, each of us has a purpose in our lives.”

Biden’s speech, and indeed the whole closing night of the Democratic convention, was the polar opposite of the Trump’s “American carnage” vision. Biden’s rejoinder: American compassion. American competence. American community.

Words kept recurring: Dignity. Normalcy. Decency. Integrity. Stability. Sanity. Family. Big-hearted. Justice. Respect. Faith. Hope. Love. There was little about policy from Biden, and certainly no laundry list of proposals and promises. There was no attempt to throw red meat to the political left. This was about healing and recovery.

“The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division,” he said. “Here and now, I give you my word — if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness. . . . We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege.”

On the same night Trump tweeted about polls showing support for him among his Republican base, Biden told America: “I will work hard for those who did not support me — as hard for them as I did for those who did vote for me. That is the job of a president, to represent all of us, not just our base or our party. This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment.”

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We heard tender family stories from Biden’s granddaughters, from his children. We heard about the loss of his wife and daughter in a car wreck nearly half a century ago, and the loss of his son Beau to cancer a few years ago. We heard about how young Joey, with a flashlight in front of a mirror, fought to overcome his stutter. Biden’s voice began to catch again when he spoke of his late son Beau fighting in Iraq, and he spoke tenderly of his father, who lost his job when Biden was a boy in Scranton, Pa. “My dad was an honorable, decent man,” the former vice president said.

There can be no doubt who the honorable, decent man is in this race. As Democrats opened their convention this week, Trump said Biden “doesn’t know where he is” and is “afraid to leave his basement because he can’t speak any longer.” Trump and his team have variously described Biden as senile, corrupt, a tool of China and the far left, and even a pedophile.

Biden spoke more in sorrow than anger as he described his opponent standing up for white supremacists in Charlottesville and looking out for his own interests while Americans lose their lives and their jobs: “A president who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators, and fans the flames of hate and division.”

Watching Biden accept the nomination not in a thunderous convention hall but as a solitary figure on the screen, speaking calmly and conversationally, added to the sense of reassurance. “You know,” Biden said, “I’ve always believed you can define America in one word: possibilities. The defining feature of America: Everything is possible.”

This was Biden at his best, warm and full of heart. And for that moment, it indeed seemed possible that things might turn out okay.

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