President Barack Obama today bade goodbye to Americans in an emotional speech, warning them of threats to democracy from growing racism, inequality and discrimination amidst a “corrosive” a political environment in the country following the election of Donald Trump. Refashioning his winning 2008 campaign mantra for 2017, Obama while addressing nearly 20,000 supporters in his hometown here asked them to hold fast to their optimism and to look within for leadership. “I am asking you to believe not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours,” 55-year-old Obama said. “I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents: … Yes, we can,” he said in the address that lasted for 55 minutes. “Yes, we did. Yes, we can”.
He cautioned Americans about threats to democracy, saying “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
The outgoing President lamented that despite his historic election as the nation’s first black president in 2008, “race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”
“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic,” he acknowledged. Obama’s presidency will come to an end on January 20 when Republican Trump would be sworn in as the 45th President of the US.
Obama promised a peaceful transfer of power to Trump in the coming weeks. Without mentioning Trump, he used his speech to offer an implicit rebuttal to many of the contentious themes like temporary ban on Muslim immigration that characterised the 2016 presidential campaign.
Obama said he rejects discrimination against Muslim Americans, and drew cheers for saying they are “just as patriotic as we are”. “… I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” Obama said.
“That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem,” he said. Obama warned his countrymen that American democracy is threatened whenever they take it for granted.
“This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands,” Obama said.
“Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organising,” Obama said.
He insisted that change results when “ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it”.
He said global order based on rule of law, human rights, freedoms of speech, assembly and religion along with an independent press is now being challenged by violent fanatics and autocrats in foreign capitals.
“Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organisation has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando remind us of how dangerous radicalisation can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever,” Obama said. ISIS will be destroyed and no one who threatens America will ever be safe, he said.
“We have taken out tens of thousands of terrorists including Osama bin Laden. The global coalition we are leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. To all who serve, it has been the honour of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief,” Obama said.
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Referring to how he successfully tackled the problem of climate change, Obama said, “In just eight years, we have halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet”.
He warned that to deny the reality of global warming amounted to a betrayal of generations to come. He also used his address to thank his wife Michelle and daughters.
“All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote,” he said as he completed terms at the White House.
“When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes,” he added.
“And all of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings,” said the US President.
He also warned economic divisions have intensified racial divisions, particularly at a time when the growth of the nation’s Hispanic population continues.
To be serious about race, Obama said laws to fight discrimination in hiring, housing, education and criminal justice must be upheld — and “hearts must change.”
“But we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves,” Obama said.
“If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce,” he warned.
The economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, he said, adding that last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.
For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression, he said adding if the “scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened”.
He said no one can defeat America unless “we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight”.
“Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors,” he stressed.
After successful eight years of his presidency, Obama said he is leave this stage even more optimistic about this country than he was when started. “By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place” than it was eight years ago when he took office, he told thousands of supporters.