Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday night delivered his farewell address from his hometown of Chicago, ten days before he steps down and Donald Trump is sworn in.
“You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions,” he quipped at the start of his remarks, after he asked the crowd to take a seat but they continued to stand as they clapped.
“Whether we’ve seen eye to eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you – the American people – are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going. And every day I have learned from you.”
“This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it,” he said of the city of Chicago, where he first arrived when he was in his 20s.
“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,” added the President.
“It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union,” said Obama.
“This is the great gift our founders gave us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good. A greater good.
“For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation…Our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard…it’s always been contentious, sometimes it’s been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels as though we take one step back,” said Obama, who added that “the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all.”
He went on to list what he sees as his accomplishments, including restoring ties with Cuba, improving the economy, eliminating former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and, according to Obama, “eliminating Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot.”
“America is a stronger place than it was when we started,” he continued.
The crowd erupted into boos when Obama mentioned Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, but he quickly told the crowd to stop and stressed his commitment to “ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President [George W.] Bush did for me, because it’s up to all of us to ensure that our government can meet the many challenges we still face.”
Democracy “does not require uniformity,” Obama said. “Our founders quarreled but they knew that democracy requires a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together.”
In the wake of the divisions in American society in the wake of the election, the President stressed the importance of unity and said, “Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. All of us have more work to do…Last year income rose for all races, for all age groups, for men and for women...if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system…but laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change.”
He urged Americans to look beyond their “bubbles” and not “talk past each other”.
Obama claimed that “no foreign terrorist organization has executed a terrorist attack on American soil in the past eight years.” He did mention attacks in Boston, Orlando and Fort Hood but insinuated that even though these attacks were inspired by jihadists they were not carried out directly by those groups.
The Islamic State (ISIS) “will be destroyed and no one who threatens us will ever be safe,” he declared. "The global coalition we’re leading against [ISIS] has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory."
Obama stressed his rejection of discrimination against Muslim Americans “who are just as patriotic as we are.”
“Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions,” he continued.
"Our democracy...needs you. Not just when there’s an election...but over the full span of a lifetime."