Chicago, Illinois, United States – With a final call of his campaign mantra “Yes We Can,” President Barack Obama urged Americans on Tuesday to stand up for US values and reject discrimination as the United States transitions to the presidency of Republican Donald Trump.
In an emotional speech in which he thanked his family and declared his time as president the honor of his life, Obama gently prodded the public to embrace his vision of progress while repudiating some of the policies that Trump promoted during his campaign for the White House.
“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.”
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.”
“So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are,” Obama told a crowd of 18,000 in his hometown of Chicago, where he celebrated his election in 2008 as the first black president of the United States.
Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall on the border with Mexico, upending a global deal to fight climate change, and dismantling Obama’s healthcare reform law.
Obama made clear his opposition to those positions during fiery campaign speeches for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but has struck a more conciliatory tone with Trump since the election.
In his farewell speech, he made clear his positions had not changed and he said his efforts to end the use of torture and close the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were part of a broader move to uphold US values.
“That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” he said in a clear reference to Trump that drew applause.
He said bold action is needed to fight global warming and said “science and reason” mattered.
“If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our healthcare system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it,” he said in another prodding challenge to his successor.
Trump has urged the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal the law right away.
Obama, who came to office amid high expectations that his election would heal historic racial divides, acknowledged that was an impossible goal.
“After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America,” he said. “Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”
However, Obama said he remained hopeful about the work that a younger generation would do. “Yes we can,” he said. “Yes we did.”
In an indirect reference to the political work the Democratic Party will have to do to recover after Clinton’s loss, Obama urged racial minorities to seek justice not only for themselves but also for “the middle-aged white man who, from the outside, may seem like he’s got advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.” Trump won his election in part by appealing to working-class white men.
WITH MICHELLE, BIDEN
First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden, and many current and former White House staff members and campaign workers attended the speech.
Brushing away tears with a handkerchief, Obama paid tribute to the sacrifices made by his wife – and by his daughters, who were young girls when they entered the big white home on Pennsylvania Avenue and leave as young women. He praised the first lady 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.”
The Chicago visit is Obama’s last scheduled trip as president, and even the final flight on the presidential aircraft was tinged with wistfulness.
“I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life,” Obama told Chicagoans.
“This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it. After eight years as your president, I still believe that.”
Diehard fans – many African Americans – braved Chicago’s frigid winter to collect free tickets, which now sell for upwards of $1,000 apiece on Craigslist.
It was the president’s 445th “mission” on Air Force One, a perk he has said he will miss when he leaves office, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
All told, Obama will have spent more than 2,800 hours or 116 days on the plane during his presidency.
Obama plans to remain in Washington for the next two years while his younger daughter Sasha finishes high school. Sasha, who has an exam on Wednesday, did not attend the speech but her older sister Malia was there.
The president has indicated he wants to give Trump the same space that his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, gave Obama after leaving office by not maintaining a high public profile. (With a report from AFP)