Obama Says Goodbye, Urges Unity
By Lorin McLain
Present Obama left the nation with a message coupled with hope and warning in his farewell address this week. America’s 44th president took the opportunity to note his accomplishments and ultimately his legacy, and also warned of economic disparity, complacency, racism, and ignorance that threatens our democracy. Obama chose Chicago for the address, ground zero for his political ascendancy, and in the same hall where he celebrated his re-election in 2012.
“This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, they get engaged, and they come together to demand it,” he said, marking his achievements from two terms in office. Reversing the recession, rebooting the auto industry, and “unleashing the longest stretch of job creation in our history,” were among successes highlighted. He also took credit in opening a new relationship with Cuba, and ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He took a strong defense to his crowning effort, the Affordable Care Act, which the incoming Trump administration vows to repeal.
The president said the rate of the uninsured has never been lower, and health care costs are rising at the slowest pace in 50 years. He left open the challenge for incoming Republicans, saying “if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements that we’ve made to it, that covers as many people at less costs, then I will publicly support it.”
“By almost every measure, we are far better off than when we started,” he said, promising an ordered transition for the president-elect and pledging his support. However, he warned of undercurrents in American society that reflected controversial positions championed by the Trump campaign. “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between 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 enclave,” he said.
The president warned that race, divisiveness, and the inability to search for reason is increasingly a threat to our democracy. “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles,” he said. He also made a point of sticking to objectives to fight climate change, another area President-elect Donald Trump has downplayed. “Denying the problem denies future generations, and betrays essential spirit of innovation and practical problem solving that guided our fathers,” he said.
At one point, the president’s tone lamented the state of American political participation and apathy among people who are eligible to vote. His statements reflected the vitriolic moments of the campaign season and surprise victory of Donald Trump. “We should reject the dawning of any attempt to alienate one portion of this country from the rest,” he said. The president said that complacency and fear are bigger threats to our democracy than a foreign power like China or Russia. “If you’re disappointed in your representatives, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself,” he urged. Before tear-filled thanks to his family, the Bidens, his supporters, and the nation overall, he offered a final turn on the mantra that started his campaign nearly a decade ago, “Yes you can.”