END OF AN ERA: Obama’s Farewell Address Resonates Deeply With U.S., World
President Obama gives Final Address to the nation
In his last presidential address, President Barack Obama said his goodbyes to the people Tuesday night as he leaves office and president-elect Donald Trump prepares to become the next Head of State. Obama spoke from Chicago, instead of the Oval Office or East Room, because, in his words:
“I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life… This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it. After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government…”
But this was more than a farewell speech, it was a thank you to the American people; a speech that appealed to the American values, to the belief in human rights, freedom, the pursuit of happiness. Above all, the belief that every single human being was created equal, having dreams, chief among them being the pursuit of a common good.
Coming into office on a wave of hope and optimism, eight years later, the outlook is very different. With noticeable nostalgia, Obama leaves his leadership of the Unites States with a very divided nation, in a difficult situation of growing racism, xenophobia, fear, violence and hatred within society. A situation of political and economic uncertainty. But in a message of hope and change written by himself, Obama spoke to the people about the state of democracy, the threat American democracy faces, and the belief he has in the people to defend that democracy.
Obama stood up for his administration’s successes; referencing the creation of jobs, the new chapter in Cuban relations, the capture of Osama bin Laden, and securing a health insurance plan. But he didn’t dwell too long here. He recognized that although progress has been made, there have been setbacks. Obama declared that he believes in the potential of the United States, which will only work with democracy and the decency of the people, regardless of their political affiliation.
President Obama focused on the threats democracy faces in America, a democracy tested by a crumbling solidarity. Threatened also by racism, a potent and divisive factor in society, and discrimination against refugees, Muslim Americans, immigrants, and their children. He drew parallels to Italian and Irish immigration in American history, and the suffering and scorn heaped upon immigrants in those times. He also stressed the importance of listening to one another.
This democracy is also threatened by the fact that people have retreated into their own bubbles, formed primarily by the influence of the media. And finally, she is also threatened by the unwillingness to believe new information, even when it is supported by scientific evidence. Hence, President Obama asked Americans not to fear, but to remain vigilant against both external threats and internal divisions that seek to destroy the values that make America what it is. To not allow Americans to betray the constitution, to be bullies to other nations, to withdraw from the international arena. Above all, to not take democracy for granted. As he said:
“Our constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it is really just a piece of parchment… we the people, give it power, we the people give it meaning, with the participation and the choices that we make.”
Finally, the President asked Americans to have hope, to remain energized and inspired, to have faith in America and in Americans, for change is possible. In his words:
“You did change the world. You did. That’s why I leave the stage tonight even more optimistic than we started…. I’ve seen you in every corner of the country, you believe in a fair, and just and inclusive America…. That is why I believe our future is in good hands. My fellow Americans, it has been the honour of my life to serve you. I wont stop. In fact i will be right there with you as a citizen for all my remaining days”
After emotionally thanking his wife Michelle as the pillar of his life, expressing pride over his daughters Malia and Sasha, referring to Vice President Joe Biden as one of his best decisions and a brother, and thanking his staff, President Obama gave his last formal words to the people:
“I am asking you to believe, not in my ability to bring change but in yours… Yes we can. Yes we did, yes we can. Thank you, God bless you.”
Featured image via Al Jazeera English Facebook live screengrab.