Nothing brought home the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic quite so clearly—or fuzzily—as the pixelated visage that appeared on American television screens to claim a series of Democratic primary victories tonight.
Former Vice President Joe Biden was speaking from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, but he might as well have been in a bunker. Biden’s campaign had set up a podium and a pair of American flags, but the man poised to face President Donald Trump as the Democratic nominee had seemingly been reduced to what felt like a blurry video on a dial-up modem.
Biden swept the night, defeating Senator Bernie Sanders in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona. He was up by nearly 40 points in Florida, where the state’s older population and many Hispanic constituencies were hostile to Sanders’s brand of democratic socialism. But for the first few minutes of his remarks tonight, Biden didn’t even mention the primary contests he won. His mind—everyone’s mind—was on the pernicious viral threat that has infected nearly 6,000 Americans and counting, all but shut down huge states and cities, and decimated the national economy.
“Tackling this pandemic is a national emergency akin to fighting a war,” Biden said. He tried to strike a somber yet reassuring tone, repeatedly offering prayers to the families hit by the virus and thanking the millions of doctors, nurses, first responders, shelf stockers, and grocery-store clerks who are risking their health to keep essential services running.