Obama farewell: ‘Yes we did’

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - —STORYBYAP

CHICAGO—“The fu­ture should be ours,” US Pres­i­dent Obama said on Tues­day in an emo­tional farewell speech that sought to com­fort a coun­try on edge over rapid eco­nomic changes, per­sis­tent se­cu­rity threats and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump. Obama’s vale­dic­tory speech in Chicago was a pub­lic med­i­ta­tion on the many tri­als the United States faces as he leaves of­fice.

CHICAGO— US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama bid farewell to the nation on Tues­day 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 in his home­town of Chicago was a pub­lic med­i­ta­tion on the many tri­als the United States faces as Obama takes his exit.

For the chal­lenges that are new, Obama of­fered his vi­sion on how to sur­mount them, and for the per­sis­tent prob­lems he was un­able to over­come, he of­fered op­ti­mism that oth­ers, even­tu­ally, would.

“Yes, our progress has been un­even,” Obama told a crowd of some 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,” he added.

‘The fu­ture should be ours’

Yet Obama ar­gued his faith in Amer­ica had only been strength­ened by what he’s wit­nessed the past eight years, and he de­clared: “The fu­ture should be ours.”

Brush­ing away tears with a hand­ker­chief, Obama paid trib­ute to the sac­ri­fices made by his wife—and his daugh­ters, who were young girls when they en­tered the big white home on 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue and leave as young women.

He praised First lady Michelle Obama for tak­ing on her role “with grace and grit and style and good hu­mor” 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 con­tin­u­ing shadow over his post­elec­tion ef­forts to re­as­sure Amer­i­cans anx­ious about the fu­ture.

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.

Legacy re­mains in question

So even as Obama seeks to de­fine what his pres­i­dency meant for Amer­ica, his legacy re­mains in question.

Even 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 cen­ter where he stood in front of a gi­ant pres­i­den­tial seal.

The po­lit­i­cal world was reel­ing from new rev­e­la­tions about an un­sub­stan­ti­ated re­port that Rus­sia had com­pro­mis­ing per­sonal and fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion about Trump. (See story in the World, Page A14.)

‘Get out of your bub­bles’

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 ques­tioned 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 con­firmed what they al­ready be­lieved.

Get out of your “bub­bles,” said the politi­cian, who rose to promi­nence with a mes­sage of unity, chal­leng­ing di­vi­sions of red states and blue states.

Call to ac­tivism

Obama also 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 had been up­ended in re­cent years.

‘Yes we did’

Pay­ing trib­ute to his place as Amer­ica’s first black pres­i­dent, Obama ac­knowl­edged there were hopes af­ter his 2008 elec­tion for a pos­tra­cial Amer­ica.

“Such a vi­sion, how­ever well-in­tended, was never re­al­is­tic,” Obama said, though he in­sisted race re­la­tions are bet­ter now than a few decades ago.

The for­mer com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer closed out his speech by re­viv­ing his cam­paign chant, “Yes we can.” To that, he added for the first time, “Yes we did.”

He staunchly de­fended the power of ac­tivists to make a dif­fer­ence—the driv­ing fac­tor be- hind Obama’s op­ti­mism in the face of so much anx­i­ety, he said.

Though the coali­tion of young Amer­i­cans and mi­nori­ties who twice got Obama elected wasn’t enough to elect Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton to re­place him, Obama sug­gested their day was still ahead.

“You’ll soon out­num­ber any of us, and I be­lieve as a re­sult that the fu­ture is in good hands,” he said.

Steeped in nos­tal­gia, Obama’s re­turn to Chicago was less a tri­umphant home­com­ing than a bit­ter­sweet re­union bring­ing to­gether loy­al­ists and staffers, many of whom have long since left Obama’s ser­vice, moved on to new ca­reers and started fam­i­lies.

They came from across the coun­try—some on Air Force One, oth­ers on their own—to be present for the last ma­jor mo­ment of Obama’s pres­i­dency.

Un­ex­pect­edly ab­sent was Obama’s younger daugh­ter, Sasha, who had been ex­pected to join sis­ter Malia at the speech.

The White House said Sasha stayed in Washington due to a school exam on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to Washington, Obama will have less than two weeks be­fore he ac­com­pa­nies Trump in the pres­i­den­tial limou­sine to the Capi­tol for the new pres­i­dent’s swear­ing-in.

Af­ter nearly a decade in the spot­light, Obama will be­come a pri­vate cit­i­zen, an el­der states­man at 55.

He plans to take some time off, write a book—and im­merse him­self in a Demo­cratic re­dis­trict­ing cam­paign.


VALE­DIC­TORY SPEECH Barack Obama closes the book on his pres­i­dency in an emo­tional speech aimed at lift­ing sup­port­ers shaken by Don­ald Trump’s shock elec­tion.

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