Obama’s farewell – ‘Yes We Did’

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Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has bid farewell to the United States in an emo­tional speech that sought to com­fort a coun­try on edge over rapid eco­nomic changes, per­sis­tent se­cu­rity threats and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump.

Force­ful at times and tear­ful at oth­ers, Obama’s vale­dic­tory speech yes­ter­day in his home­town of Chicago was a pub­lic med­i­ta­tion on the many tri­als the US faces as Obama takes his exit. For the chal­lenges that are new, Obama of­fered his vi­sion for how to sur­mount them, and for the per­sis­tent prob­lems he was un­able to over­come, he of­fered op­ti­mism that oth­ers, even­tu­ally, will.

‘‘Yes, our progress has been un­even,’’ he told a crowd of 18,000. ‘‘The work of democ­racy has al­ways been hard, con­tentious and some­times bloody. For ev­ery two steps for­ward, it of­ten feels we take one step back.’’ Yet Obama ar­gued his faith in Amer­ica had only been strength­ened by what he’s wit­nessed in the past eight years, and he de­clared: ‘‘The fu­ture should be ours.’’

Brush­ing away tears, Obama paid trib­ute to the sac­ri­fices made by his wife and daugh­ters. He praised First Lady Michelle Obama for tak­ing on her role ‘‘with grace and grit and style and good hu­mour’’ and for mak­ing the White House ‘‘a place that be­longs to ev­ery­body’’.

Soon Obama and his fam­ily will exit the na­tional stage, to be re­placed by Trump, a man Obama had stri­dently ar­gued poses a dire threat to the na­tion’s fu­ture. His near-apoc­a­lyp­tic warn­ings through­out the cam­paign have cast a shadow over his post­elec­tion ef­forts to re­as­sure anx­ious Amer­i­cans.

In­deed, much of what Obama ac­com­plished dur­ing his two terms – from health care over­haul and en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions to his nu­clear deal with Iran – could po­ten­tially be up­ended by Trump. So even as Obama seeks to de­fine what his pres­i­dency meant for Amer­ica, his legacy re­mains in ques­tion. As Obama said farewell – in a tele­vised speech of just un­der an hour – the anx­i­ety felt by many Amer­i­cans about the fu­ture was pal­pa­ble, and not only in the Chicago con­ven­tion cen­tre where he stood in front of a gi­ant pres­i­den­tial seal. The po­lit­i­cal world was reel­ing from rev­e­la­tions about an un­sub­stan­ti­ated re­port that Rus­sia had com­pro­mis­ing per­sonal and fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion about Trump.

Obama made only pass­ing ref­er­ence to the next pres­i­dent. When he noted he would soon be re­placed by the Repub­li­can, his crowd be­gan to boo.

‘‘No, no, no, no, no,’’ Obama said. One of the na­tion’s great strengths, he said, ‘‘is the peace­ful trans­fer of power from one pres­i­dent to the next.’’

Ear­lier, as the crowd of thou­sands chanted, ‘‘Four more years,’’ he sim­ply smiled and said, ‘‘I can’t do that.’’

Still, Obama of­fered what seemed like a point-by-point re­but­tal of Trump’s vi­sion for Amer­ica. He pushed back on the iso­la­tion­ist sen­ti­ments in­her­ent in Trump’s trade poli­cies. He de­cried dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lim Amer­i­cans and lamented politi­cians who ques­tion cli­mate change. And he warned about the per­ni­cious threat to US democ­racy posed by pur­posely de­cep­tive fake ‘‘news’’ and a grow­ing ten­dency of Amer­i­cans to lis­ten only to in­for­ma­tion that con­firms what they al­ready be­lieve.

Obama re­vived a call to ac­tivism that marked his first pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, telling Amer­i­cans to stay en­gaged in pol­i­tics. ‘‘If you’re tired of ar­gu­ing with strangers on the in­ter­net,’’ Obama said point­edly, ‘‘try to talk with one in real life.’’

With Democrats still strain­ing to make sense of their dev­as­tat­ing elec­tion losses, Obama tried to of­fer a path for­ward. He called for em­pa­thy for the strug­gles of all Amer­i­cans – from mi­nori­ties, refugees and trans­gen­der peo­ple to mid­dle-aged white men whose sense of eco­nomic se­cu­rity has been up­ended in re­cent years.

The for­mer com­mu­nity or­gan­iser closed his speech by re­viv­ing his cam­paign chant, ‘‘Yes we can.’’ To that, he added for the first time, ‘‘Yes we did.’’

‘‘The work of democ­racy has al­ways been hard, con­tentious and some­times bloody. For ev­ery two steps for­ward, it of­ten feels we take one step back.’’

PHO­TOS: REUTERS

Barack Obama had to wipe away tears in his farewell speech.

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