PHILADELPHIA -- Speaking at Philadelphia City Hall on Tuesday morning as the country buckled under the combined strains of police brutality, protests, riots and the coronavirus, Joe Biden condemned President Donald Trump for spreading hatred, and vowed to put racial equality and healing at the forefront of his presidency.
"The country is crying out for leadership, leadership that can unite us, leadership that brings us together, leadership that can recognize the pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for a long time," the former vice president said in a speech that contrasted starkly with Trump's approach to the crises bearing down on the nation.
Biden criticized rioters and looters -- "We need to distinguish between legitimate peaceful protest and opportunistic violent destruction" -- but mostly emphasized the country's decadeslong battle against racism and inequality, while accusing Trump of inflaming those divisions for political gain.
"I look at the presidency as a very big job and nobody will get it right every time and I won't either. But I promise you this: I won't traffic in fear and division, I won't fan the flames of hate, I'll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain," Biden said.
The speech, carried live on cable networks, delivered Biden's most extensive public remarks on the converging crises that have convulsed the nation and reshaped the 2020 election. His visit to Philadelphia was his first campaign trip outside Delaware since mid-March, when the coronavirus curtailed campaigning, but the latest in a string of public events in which Biden has reemerged in recent days in Wilmington, rather than speaking remotely.
Speaking at a moment of deep peril across the country, it was Biden's most prominent step back onto the national stage. He used it to stress a sharply different vision of leadership compared to Trump.
"President Trump has turned this country into a battlefield riven by old resentments and fresh fears. He thinks division helps him," Biden said, standing before an array of American flags and a small audience of Democratic officials. "His narcissism has become more important than the nation's well-being that he leads."
Biden spoke against the backdrop of a week of protest and, more recently, violent clashes and looting in many cities, including Philadelphia -- and as voters in Pennsylvania went to the polls for a primary election in circumstances with few historical precedents. People outside City Hall wore masks and listened to the speech on their phones as a line of two dozen police blocked the entrance.
The speech came a day after Trump laid down a much more combative approach at the White House, when he urged law enforcement to "dominate" the streets and proclaimed, "I am your president of law and order." Earlier, in a conference call with the nation's governors, he derided them as "weak" and said he would use the military to assume control if they were unable to stop unrest.
"Sitting there, right in front of (Biden) him with a very small group, that's where he shines it was the exact opposite message of Donald Trump last night," said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia, Biden surrogate who attended the speech. "It's so unfortunate we have a president who is tearing people down and making things more tense."