In a speech that was by turns personal and political, searing and comforting, Joseph R. Biden Jr. pledged to heal a suffering nation through shared purpose and common decency.
His speech accepting his party’s presidential nomination capped one of the most extraordinary Democratic National Conventions in history. With the coronavirus pandemic essentially eliminating in-person activities, what is ordinarily the biggest quadrennial party for Democrats went completely virtual.
The final night hammered home the campaign’s message of the reunification, and its depiction of Mr. Biden as a big-tent candidate for a big-tent moment. His onetime rivals for the Democratic nomination gathered to voice their support for the newly-minted nominee, who pledged to be “a Democratic candidate, but an American president.”
Here are four moments that defined the last night of the convention:
Biden, stressing unity and offering solace, projects a campaign of healing.
For the entire week, Democratic speakers struck a tone of urgency, not contenting themselves with the campaign cliché that “this is the most important election in our lifetimes.” Instead, they warned starkly about the very future of American democracy.
In his speech, Mr. Biden returned to those themes.
“America is at an inflection point, a time of real peril,” he said.
The candidate singled out four historic crises: the pandemic, the economy, the struggle for racial justice, and climate change.
“This is a life-changing election,” Mr. Biden said. “This will determine what America is going to look for a long time.”
But unlike Mr. Trump, whose major political speeches often turn toward grievance and a dark portrait of the American soul — he famously spoke of “American carnage” in his inaugural address — Mr. Biden struck themes of hope, like the man he once served as vice president.
Mr. Biden pledged to serve those who voted against him the same as those who voted for him.
Oscillating between personal stories and political rhetoric, Mr. Biden put his political skills on full display, at times echoing the testimonials he received from former candidates and rivals and allies: At his core, they said, Mr. Biden is a decent man.
“Character is on the ballot, compassion is on the ballot,” Mr. Biden said. “Decency, science, democracy, they’re all on the ballot.”
Many speakers this week spoke of the candidate’s empathy, and he offered a demonstration of it by striking another divergent note from the president. Mr. Biden spoke directly to those Americans who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus, engaging in an act of public mourning that Mr. Trump is often criticized for skipping.
“The end of this chapter of American darkness ends here tonight,” Mr. Biden said. “This is a battle we will win and we’ll do it together.”
They battled one another. Now they are fighting together.
Last year, the potential for another fractious, bitter post-primary season loomed large, given the competition for the nomination by the largest and most diverse Democratic presidential field in party history.
But through a combination of quickly coalescing around Mr. Biden and a shortened election, there was no lasting wound as there was between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Mr. Sanders almost immediately endorsed Mr. Biden after suspending his presidential campaign.
In a final convention show of unity, Senator Cory Booker played host to a Hollywood Squares type reunion of seven former presidential candidates, who offered their favorite memories of Mr. Biden, with some occasional comedic relief from Mr. Sanders.
“You can think of this sort of like “Survivor” on all of the people who have also ran,” Mr. Booker said. (Before moderating the tributes and recollections for Mr. Biden, Mr. Booker had a question for Mr. Sanders: “Why does my girlfriend like you more than me?”)
Pete Buttigieg recalled a time when Mr. Biden learned that his rival had hired someone he knew. The former vice president pulled Mr. Buttigieg aside and “let me know that that was someone who had gone through a family tragedy and just thought it was important for me to know that, as someone who is working for me.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar recalled delivering a speech to a largely empty Senate chamber, one even her mother might not have watched on C-SPAN. Then she got a call from Mr. Biden, who wanted to talk about her speech.
“That kind of goes to not only his kindness — for calling me and being a mentor — but it shows how much he cares about our government,” Ms. Klobuchar said.
Mr. Sanders interjected, wondering if Ms. Klobuchar’s mother did indeed tune into C-SPAN.
Nearly every candidate spoke more to Mr. Biden’s character than any policy platform.
“The magic of Joe Biden is, everything he does becomes the new reasonable,” Mr. Yang said.
Mr. Sanders, whose praise perhaps carries the most weight for his legion of progressive supporters, who may still be leery of supporting the more moderate Mr. Biden, reiterated his pledge of support.
“In Joe Biden, you have a human being who is empathetic, who is honest, who is decent,” he said. “And at this particular moment in American history, my God this is something that this country really needs. And all of us, whether you are progressives, moderates or conservatives, have got to come together.”
A comedic touch for a historic night.
All week, the convention’s celebrity M.C.’s — an apparent necessity to move a virtual convention from one segment to another — have played largely a constrained role, rarely taking the spotlight themselves. It is, after all, a favorite Republican attack line to claim coziness between Hollywood and Democrats.
For the first three nights, the M.C.’s tilted toward a somber recognition of the state of the nation, and the stakes of the election.
Not Julia Louis-Dreyfus. At least, not entirely
The actor and Emmy-winning star of “Veep” peppered her transitions Thursday with her trademark comedy, breezy yet cutting,
Ms. Louis-Dreyfus set the tone early when bantering with Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate. The two intentionally mispronounced Vice President Mike Pence’s name — a comedic shiv at the conservative pundits and politicians who regularly mangle Senator Kamala Harris’s given name.
It continued from there.
“Joe Biden goes to church so regularly that he doesn’t even need tear gas and a bunch of federalized troops to help him get there,” Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said at one point.
And urging voters to text the number “30330” to the Biden campaign, she said, “30330 — that would be the president’s golf store if he didn’t cheat.”
“Look, I admit that was a little nasty,” she said. “But we all know he’s a cheater. And I’m proud to be a nasty, nasty woman.”
Ms. Louis-Dreyfus was not the only performer to try to inject some humor into a solemn night. Sarah Cooper, the social media comedian whose videos lip-syncing some of President Trump’s more outlandish monologues, offered one of her signature videos during the first hour of the night.
At the end, however, Ms. Cooper turned serious, urging everyone to cast their ballot.
“Donald Trump doesn’t want any of us to vote because he knows he can’t win fair and square,” she said.
A tribute to John Lewis, and a call to action.
When he died several weeks ago, Representative John Lewis of Georgia left behind an essay, published in The New York Times, with a message to the generations who will follow him: “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.”
That battle for the “soul of our nation” has been a consistent theme this week at the convention, as speaker after speaker has sought to impress upon a shaken electorate that the stakes of an American election have never been higher.
Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, paying tribute to Mr. Lewis, said the civil rights leader’s life story and passion for making “good trouble” represented the ideal the Democratic Party has been reaching for over the past week.
“He walked gently amongst us, not as a distant icon but as a God-fearing man who did what he could to fulfill the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of America,” Ms. Lance Bottoms said. She made particular note of Mr. Lewis’s signature issue, voting rights.
“The baton has now been passed to each of us,” Ms. Lance Bottoms said. “We’ve cried out for justice, we have gathered in our streets to demand change, and now we must pass on the gift John Lewis sacrificed to give us: We must register, and we must vote.”
A tribute video cited Mr. Lewis’s “willingness to suffer instead of inflict suffering,” and connected his lifelong battles — as he himself did not long before he died — to the protests that have swept the country this summer.
Mr. Lewis was memorialized in a rendition of the song “Glory” by John Legend and Common, which was written for the movie “Selma.”
Now the war is not over, victory isn’t won,
And we’ll fight on to the finish,
Then when it’s all done,
We’ll cry glory