President Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the American people on Tuesday night at McCormick Place in Chicago. According to the White House website, the purpose of the speech was to "thank his supporters, celebrate the ways we have changed this country for the better these past eight years, and offer his vision on where we all go from here." POTUS did all that and much more in a moving speech that left many who saw it (and Obama himself) in tears.
Obama spent most of the speech enumerating forces that are "testing our democracy." The first was what he called "stark inequality."
While the top one percent have amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many of our families and inner cities and in rural counties have been left behind.
The laid-off factory worker, the waitress or health care worker who's just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills, convinced that the game is that fixed against them, that the government only serves the interest of the powerful -- that's a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics... [I]f we don't create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.
The second threat the president spoke of was racism and racial division. He said that talk of a "post-racial America" after his election was unrealistic. "Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society," he elaborated. "If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard-working white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves."
The final peril Obama discussed contained a not-so-subtle subliminal dig at his successor. He said that politics is often "a battle of ideas" among people with different goals. But, he said, a much bigger problem comes when people ignore facts.
[W]ithout some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point and that science and reason matter, then we're going to keep talking past each other.
And we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible. And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting?... It is not just dishonest, the selective sorting of the facts, it self-defeating. Because, as my mom used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.
The line about "science and reason" seemed to be a warning to Donald Trump, who has publicly denied that climate change exists. Obama took another dig at one of Trump's key positions when, to much applause, he said, "I reject discrimination against Muslim-Americans, who are just as patriotic as we are."
He wound down by calling on Americans to be the "anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy." "[Democracy] needs you," he went on, before landing on what would become (ironically) the most-tweeted lines of the night: "If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life."
The waterworks really opened up, though, when Obama began his round of thank-you's. First, to thunderous applause, he turned to his wife.
For the past twenty five years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend... You made the White House and place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. So you have made me proud and you have made the country proud.
He then thanked his daughters ("Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.") After that came a touching tribute to Joe Biden, who Obama called a "brother." In true Joe Biden fashion, the veep responded with a now-famous finger gun salute.
Obama closed by asking the audience not to believe in him, but themselves. And, of course, he paid tribute to his own most famous slogan.
I am asking you to hold fast to that a written into our founding documents, that ideal whisper that slaves and abolitionists, that spirit song by immigrants and homesteaders and those who march for justice.
That creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefield to the surface of the moon, and decree of the core of every American who story is not yet written -- yes, we can. Yes, we did. Yes, we can. Thank You. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
You can watch the whole speech above.