Joe Biden rails against Trump during Cornell commencement

AP

Former Vice President Joe Biden blasted President Donald Trump for "bestowing legitimacy on hate speech" during his Cornell University commencement address Saturday. 

"This past election cycle churned up some of the ugliest realities that still remain in our country," Biden said. "Civilized discourse and real debate gave way to coarsest rhetoric stroking our darkest emotions."

"I thought we had passed the days where it was acceptable for political leaders at local and national levels to bestow legitimacy on hate speech," he continued.

Biden's speech came the day after Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College, her alma mater, and lambasted her 2016 opponent's "full-fledged assault on truth and reason."

"When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society," Clinton said. "You didn't create these problems, but you have the power to change them."

Biden, too, has encouraged graduates to work for change this commencement season. In an address at Harvard University on Wednesday, the former vice president said that "apathy is not an option" and called on those graduating to "engage in the public affairs of this nation."

On Saturday, Biden said it was "disorienting and disheartening" to watch vulnerable Americans be scapegoated by Trump but said that it would be a "temporary state of affairs."

"The American people will not sustain this attitude for long," Biden said to applause. "It's more important than ever that we get back to basics, that we hold fast to what has always made America great and unique ... that every single person is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect."

Biden has been a vocal critic of Trump, repeatedly slamming him for his ignorance and immaturity — and said he'd like to "take [Trump] behind the gym" after the release of Trump's "grab them by the pussy" tape in which the then-candidate seemingly bragged about committing sexual assault. 

Biden has also left the door open on a possible run for president in 2020, saying this month that he "may very well" decide to challenge Trump; a recent poll found Biden had the best numbers of any Democrat who could potentially take on Trump in the next election, leading the president by 14 points. 

In his speech to Cornell students, Biden recalled how witnessing abuses of power inspired his "political passion" as a student — and urged students to "never doubt your capacity to make a difference."

"You're the most tolerant, talented, engaged generation in American history," Biden said. "Graduating class of 2017, go out there and wake us up."