Defend democracy, Obama says in farewell speech

Posted on Jan 11 2017 - 7:20am by Online Editor

 

President Barack Obama has called on Americans to defend their democracy in his farewell speech in Chicago.

“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.

But he warned “democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted”.

He implored Americans of all backgrounds to consider things from each others point of view, saying “we have to pay attention and listen”.

The country’s first black president, now 55, was first elected in 2008 on a message of hope and change.

His successor, President-elect Donald Trump, has vowed to undo some of Obama’s signature policies.

Trump will be sworn into office on 20 January.

Raucous chants of “four more years” from the crowd were brushed aside by the president. “I can’t do that,” he said. US presidents are limited to two terms by the constitution.

Striking an upbeat tone, Obama said that the peaceful transfer of power between presidents was a “hallmark” of American democracy.

But, he outlined three threats to American democracy – economic inequality, racial divisions and the retreat of different segments of society into “bubbles”, where opinions are not based on “some common baseline of facts”.

In his closing remarks he said he had one final request for Americans as president: “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”

Returning to Chicago, where he first declared victory in 2008, Obama delivered a mostly positive message to Americans after a divisive election campaign which saw to Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Obama said that young Americans – including those who worked on his campaigns, and who believe “in a fair, just, inclusive America” – left him feeling “even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started”.

In choosing Chicago, Obama had earlier said he wanted to return to “where it all started” for him and First Lady Michelle Obama, instead of delivering the speech from the White House.

The address was written with the idea of speaking to all Americans, including Trump supporters, officials said.

Obama ended with the lines: “Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we can.”

Obama’s trip to Chicago is his last as president, and his 445th journey aboard Air Force One.

He said it was in the city as a young man, “still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for purpose in my life”, that he “witnesses the power of faith and dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss”.

“This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged and they come together to demand it,” he said. “After eight years as your president I still believe that.”

More than 20,000 people had been expected to attend the farewell address at McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in North America and the venue for Obama’s speech after he defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

The tickets were given out free, but were selling online for more than $1,000 (£820) each hours ahead of the speech.

Presidential farewell addresses have long been an American political tradition.

Former Presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton delivered theirs from the White House, while George Bush Snr gave his at the West Point military academy.

President Obama leaves is viewed favourably by 57% of Americans, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, a similar level to Bill Clinton when he left office.

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