It was by accusing Donald Trump of having endorsed extreme right-wing violence that Joe Biden entered the race for the White House, with the promise to fight “battle for the soul” of America.
At 78 years old, the old lion of politics, with a life marked by tragedies, will now have to put his unifying image to the test of a country already deeply divided, and now upset by the murderous assault on the Capitol.
After two failed first presidential attempts, an aggressive campaign shaken by the pandemic and a victory clouded by the baseless allegations of fraud launched by his Republican rival, Joe Biden will fulfill his dream on Wednesday: to push again the doors of the White House, this time in the president’s clothes.
Already, he can claim his place in the history books as the man who brought down Donald Trump.
Since the announcement of his candidacy, in 2019, until his inauguration on Wednesday, the former vice-president of Barack Obama will have done everything to embody this unity and this return to calm that he promises after the tempestuous Republican, that he accuses of having “torn” the Americans.
But in the meantime, the already gaping divisions have widened.
After the violence on Capitol Hill and faced with the heavy toll of the pandemic, the one who will become on January 20 the oldest president of the United States still pleads for the rally.
“We will get by together,” promises the Democrat.
“But we cannot do it in a separate, divided country,” he insists. “The only way to do it is to come together as Americans, as neighbors, as the United States of America.”
– Empathy and blunders –
It was in a sudden transition from triumph to pain that he started, at only 29 years old, his national career.
Just elected senator from Delaware, he celebrates, dashing and surrounded by his radiant family, his victory in November 1972. A month later, his wife and one-year-old daughter are killed in a car accident, his two sons injured .
This drama, followed by the loss of his eldest son in 2015, nourishes the empathy he offers Americans. Compassion, Joe Biden made it one of his most famous political traits.
In 2021, the proud port of its beginnings is still there and the great passionate flights too.
But the old politician no longer fills his well-cut suits as in his prime. Standing, her legs now seem fragile. And his sparse white hair does not hide his skull.
Some, even among his supporters, feared that Joe Biden, prone to blunders and slips, would stumble, or even collapse, during his long battle against Donald Trump, a 74-year-old tribune with a more aggressive style.
The Covid-19, which abruptly paralyzed the campaign in March, deprived it of one of its assets: direct contact with voters.
If he resumed a more sustained pace of travel from the end of August, his strict compliance with health instructions largely restricted his presence in the field. And, according to his detractors, also allowed him to reduce the speeches and the questions of the press to their minimal portion, minimizing the unforeseen.
Donald Trump nicknamed him “Sleeping Joe”, before silencing his name by denying his victory. He mocked the “made-for-a-child” questions asked by journalists to the Democratic candidate, while attacking him about his physical and mental form.
Joe Biden’s stammering and wandering, stammering in his childhood, revolves around the Trumpists. And the entourage of the billionaire, like his supporters, bluntly describe their opponent as a senile old man.
Difficult to see, in these circumstances, how his “outstretched hand” could be well received.
– Historical review –
But Joe Biden has already made the predictions lie.
In the spring of 2020, he had signed a historic comeback in American politics by winning a triumphant victory in the Democratic primary.
Deemed by some to be too old, too centrist, he had suffered three first bitter failures, before winning a large majority in South Carolina thanks to the votes of African-American voters, the cornerstone for any Democrat running for the White House.
On the strength of this success, the candidate quickly rallied the support of other moderates, then defeated his great rival Bernie Sanders.
Unlike the bitter and long battle of 2016 between the latter, a self-proclaimed socialist, and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden had quickly managed to bring together the left wing of the party, driven by the same goal: to beat Donald Trump.
It remains to be seen whether the moderate president will be able to hold his troops once he is seated in the Oval Office.
Even though Joe Biden campaigned, in the words of Barack Obama, with the “most progressive agenda” in American history, some on the left still find him too lukewarm. And squeak when he talks about resuming dialogue with Republicans.
– “Not resentful” –
The third attempt was therefore the right one for this figure of the establishment, after the failure of the Democratic primaries of 1988 and 2008.
On his first try, he must have quickly thrown in the towel after greatly plagiarizing a speech by British Labor Neil Kinnock.
Senator for more than 35 years (1973-2009) then vice-president from 2009 to 2017, the septuagenarian has walked for decades the corridors of power in Washington.
A long political life punctuated by controversial episodes, but also successes that he brandishes today.
In the 1970s, in the midst of desegregation, he opposed the so-called “busing” policy, aimed at transporting black children by coach to predominantly white schools to promote co-education.
This position then satisfied white voters in Delaware but would come back to haunt him decades later, when black Senator Kamala Harris, then his rival for the Democratic primary, criticized him in the midst of a televised debate.
Showing that he is “not resentful”, Joe Biden chooses her despite everything as running mate. The first black candidate of Indian origin to run for this post, she will become the first female vice-president of the United States on Wednesday.
Popular among African Americans, Joe Biden had also, in his early days as a local elected official in Wilmington, advocated the development of social housing, to the chagrin of white residents. And he often recounts how his experience as a lifeguard in a predominantly black neighborhood founded his political engagement.
Other episodes plagued his campaign for the White House: his vote for the Iraq war in 2003 or the stormy Senate hearing in 1991, under his leadership, Anita Hill who accused Supreme Court candidate Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
And his strong support for a “crime law” of 1994, considered responsible for the explosion in the number of detainees, including a large proportion of African-Americans.
“A mistake”, recognizes Joe Biden today, who insists him on another part of this reform: a law against violence against women, of which he says he is “the most proud”.
In 2017, he joined forces with his “great friend” Lady Gaga to fight against sexual harassment. And Wednesday, the American star will sing once again for “Joe” during his inauguration.
Upon his arrival at the White House with Barack Obama, in the midst of the financial crisis, the former senator worked for the adoption by Congress of a vast recovery plan.
A balance sheet that he underlines at will to claim to be able to revive the economy again, this time weighed down by the pandemic.
– The “son of” Scranton –
“He has been in politics for 47 years”: Donald Trump sought to present him as a creature of this politician “backwater” that he constantly denounces.
Joe Biden retorted that the election marked a choice between the working and middle classes, which he defends, and “Park Avenue”, the glitzy New York street symbol of the rich heir.
By proudly highlighting its humble origins.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born on November 20, 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In the 1950s, the industrial city went through difficult times. His father looked for work in the neighboring state of Delaware and then, after going back and forth, settled the whole family in Wilmington. Joe Biden is ten years old. He will make it his fiefdom.
“My father always said: + Champion, we take the measure of a man not according to the number of times he is put down, but according to the time it takes to get up +”, recalls t he relentlessly.
As a little boy, he suffers from the teasing of others for his stuttering. But said to have learned alone, in front of the mirror, to overcome his handicap.
“I live in Delaware but I am a son of Pennsylvania, born in Scranton,” Joe Biden repeated during the campaign, crisscrossing his home state where the polls were tight.
Ultimate affront, Donald Trump had accused him of having “abandoned” Pennsylvania. The Democrat finally won this key state for his victory.
– The Jill Biden asset –
Joe Biden’s very tactile ways have been denounced by women who found these gestures inappropriate. Promising to now pay attention to the “personal space” of others, he had to apologize in April 2019 to avoid this controversy that threatened his candidacy.
Himself accused of sexual assault or harassment by more than a dozen women, Donald Trump has commented little on the serious accusations of a woman, Tara Reade, who claims that Joe Biden assaulted her in the years 1990. What he categorically denies.
Often by his side, his wife Jill Biden, 69, has remained discreet in the face of this accusation.
A dynamic teacher, she is also one of her best political assets. The couple married in 1977 and have a daughter, Ashley.
Still small, her two surviving sons from her first marriage, Beau and Hunter, had themselves suggested that she marry Jill, Joe Biden recounted in his memoir, saying “She gave me life.”
“It never goes away”: he often evokes the pain that has inhabited him since the death in 2015 of his eldest, Beau Biden, from brain cancer. A loss that had held him back from launching into the 2016 presidential election.
Hunter Biden, he is a regular target of Republicans, Donald Trump at the head, who accuse him of having “cashed an access” to his father when he was vice-president. At the time, the turbulent lawyer and advisor was doing business in China and Ukraine.
It was because he was trying to obtain compromising information on the Biden that the Republican billionaire was accused by the Democrats of having put pressure on Kiev.
Ultra-protective of his family, the head of the Biden clan has always defended his son, saying he is “proud” even after the announcement in December that he was targeted by an investigation into his tax situation.
– “Proud of me?” –
Widowed after the tragic car accident, Joe Biden had taken up, in January 1973, his duties as a senator at the bedside of the hospital bed of his injured sons.
Even today, he often stops to greet firefighters, recalling that they are the ones who “saved the lives” of his boys. And his.
In 1988, firefighters rushed him to hospital after a ruptured aneurysm. His condition had been deemed so serious that a priest had been called to give him the last rites.
A Catholic proud of his Irish origins, Joe Biden goes every Sunday, or so, to the little church of St. Joseph on the Brandywine in his affluent neighborhood of Wilmington.
It is there, in the cemetery, that rest his parents, his first wife Neilia and his daughter Naomi as well as, further under a tombstone decorated with small American flags, Beau.
During the campaign, Joe Biden had confided about his son: “Every morning I get up and (…) ask myself: + Is he proud of me? +”.