In politics, differences in style are not just a question of style; they are informed by politics and send political messages. The way Donald Trump clubbed the bully’s pulpit for four years was driven by his personality, but it was also, inextricably, geared towards a base of voters who wanted to see an eternal fight against the people they hated – no break, no rest, no truces.
As someone who was able to achieve an electoral victory (narrowly) with a minority of votes, Mr. Trump’s incentive was to outdo the minority that elected him. So while he may turn the volume down and use the teleprompter in grand speeches, he has always stoked the fears of immigrants and goaded his political enemies.
Mr. Biden’s tone may be different because he’s a different person, but he also has different political motivations. He was only able to win an electoral college margin of roughly the size of Mr. Trump’s in 2016, despite a clear majority of the popular vote. An electoral structure that forces him to find more votes to achieve the same result prompts him to speak to a broader electoral base – one that wants, if not real compromise and courtesy, at least the sound and the tone of someone giving it a chance.
Whether by design or not, the more intimate settings forced by the pandemic have adapted Mr. Biden’s empathetic personality and speaking style. He has a warm and conversational tone. He uses pauses well. He can speak in a quiet room, and the present moment has given him a lot. (His opponents had to account for his ability to connect. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, opening the Republican rebuttal, said, “Our president seems like a good man.”)
If everything goes according to Mr. Biden’s plan, he will deliver next year’s speech again in a very different room – that is, the kind of crowded room he imagined speaking to as president. .
For now, he has closed: “Thank you for your patience!” It was a little different from “God Bless America,” but those times are different.