Visions and views of America, as told by Pres. Biden and 22-year-old poet

Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 9:50 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Joe Biden brought messages of empathy and unity from the campaign trail to the White House in his first speech as the 46th President of the United States.

“The American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us,” Biden said in his inaugural address, using “all,” “America” and “unity” as some of his top words.

Allison Prasch, an assistant professor and expert on political speeches at UW-Madison, said Biden mentioned words like “we” or “us” roughly three times more than the word “I.” She compared his speech to the Gettysburg Address, in which Abraham Lincoln did not mention the North and the South as divided entities. He, instead, spoke about the Union and American unity.

Inaugural addresses, as Prasch explained, are typically used by presidents to transcend differences across the nation, establish themselves as presidential figures and outline a vision of their policies.

In Biden’s speech, she explained, displaying empathy was another key characteristic. “Yes, he’s accessible, but he’s also speaking as a leader with very clear expectations. A humble ask of his audience [is], ‘Listen, we’re in this together, and the next weeks and months will be difficult and dark,’ but he’s presenting this message that we can get through it if we can do it together,” Prasch said.

Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, also took the stage, reciting “The Hill We Climb.”

She read, “When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

President Barack Obama praised her performance, writing it “more than met the moment.”

Dasha Kelly Hamilton, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate, said she was “enraptured” by the poem, as it was written and performed by a young Black woman.

“The themes that resonated with me,” Kelly Hamilton said, “were how she committed she was to telling the truth. It wasn’t just ‘America is the greatest patch of land on the planet.’ ‘America is an amazing patch of land on this planet, and we have so much a work to do.’”

She continued, “To be able to hold both—celebration of our legacy and also the work that we have to do-- I love that she was able to hold both at the same time.”

Prasch also noted that “intentional,” non-verbal messages were sent by the new administration (thousands of flags filling the National Mall and the candle ceremony Tuesday night) to convey the same messages of empathy and unity.

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