"Democracies don't have to die at the end of a rifle, US President Joe Biden said.
President Joe Biden launched a blistering, direct attack on "extremist" Donald Trump Thursday, urging Americans to stand up for democracy and accusing his rival of trying to subvert US institutions.
The Democrat said in a speech in the battleground state of Arizona that Trump was driven by "vengeance and vindictiveness" and that the Republican and his hard-right allies were attacking the free press and rule of law.
To avoid appearance of judicial interference, Biden has steered clear of commenting on the multiple criminal indictments against Trump, including over his involvement in efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss -- culminating in mayhem unleashed by his supporters at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
But Biden, 80, did not hold back in the speech about what he says the country would risk from a second Trump term.
"We should all remember: democracies don't have to die the end of a rifle," Biden said. "They can die when people are silent, when they fail to stand up, or condemn threats to democracy."
Biden said there was "something dangerous happening in America" and that the Republican party was "driven and intimidated" by Trump's MAGA (Make America Great Again) fringe.
"They're not hiding their attacks. They're openly promoting them, attacking the free press as the enemy of the people, attacking the rule of law, fulminating voter suppression."
Biden criticized Republicans in particular for failing to speak up after Trump recently accused America's top military officer of treason, and lashed out at hardline Trump-allied Republicans for pushing the United States towards a government shutdown this week.
But Biden reserved some of his toughest words for Trump himself, unusually addressing him by name instead of referring to the Republican as he usually does as his "predecessor" or "the last guy".
- 'Vengeance' -
"Trump says the constitution gave him 'the right to do what he wants'," said Biden, referring to statements made by Trump about how he saw his powers in office.
"I've never even heard a president say that in jest -- not guided by the constitution or by common service and decency towards our fellow Americans, but by vengeance and vindictiveness."
At one point, after being interrupted by a climate change heckler, Biden said to the audience: "Democracy is never easy -- as was just demonstrated."
The speech came as House Republicans on Thursday launched impeachment inquiry hearings into Biden, based on unproven allegations that he lied about his son Hunter's business dealings.
Biden, however, touted his bipartisan credentials by using the speech to hail the legacy of his frequent political opponent and close friend -- the late Arizona senator John McCain.
McCain, a Vietnam war hero, was defeated in the 2008 presidential election by Barack Obama, with Biden on the winning ticket as vice president. But the two men put aside differences particularly after Trump won his own presidential election in 2016.
Biden described McCain, who died in 2018, as a "proud Republican who put country first."
McCain loathed Trump, withdrawing his support for him in the 2016 presidential election and saying before his death from brain cancer that he didn't want him at his funeral.
The feeling was mutual, with Trump mocking his war hero status in 2015.
Biden, by contrast, delivered a eulogy at McCain's funeral, saying that he "loved" him and that their friendship transcended political differences.
While the US election is still more than a year away, Biden and Trump notched up their first major head-to-head skirmish this week with dueling visits to auto industry workers in Michigan, another battleground state.
Biden's speech also comes the day after seven other Republican presidential hopefuls held a campaign debate in California. Trump, who holds overwhelming leads over all of his rivals, snubbed the event.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)