Jan 11, 2017

In farewell message, Obama pitches for preservation of democracy



U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday, giving his presidential farewell address. | Photo Credit: AP

“Let’s be vigilant, but not afraid,” United States President Barack Obama told fellow Americans in an emotional farewell speech, reflecting on the state of democracy in the country, 10 days ahead of handing over the baton to his Republican successor Donald Trump.

Striking an optimistic note for the country that is still reeling from a highly divisive election campaign that catapulted his successor to the highest office, the 44th President – the first African American in the country’s 240-year-old democracy – said: “The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody… But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion.”

The President identified four areas to watch out for preservation of democracy – ensuring economic opportunity for everyone when technology will destroy jobs faster than trade did, guarding against prejudices, keeping faith in reason and maintaining “some common baseline of facts” and not taking democracy for granted.

“Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions,” he said, promising to work as a citizen for the rest of his life toward such a goal.

Mr. Obama stopped the crowd when it booed at the mention of Mr. Trump. “In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next,” he said, adding that it is “up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.”

Mr. Obama returned to Chicago where he cut his teeth as a community volunteer in the early 1990s, before cruising on an inspirational political journey. His farewell speech combined humility and confidence, and showed his defining ability to carry both. For a leader who has never bothered to hide his sensitivity, Tuesday evening was no different, as he took out his handkerchief to wipe his moist eyes, recalling the origins of his journey in the city.


“After my election, there was talk of a post racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society,” he said.

But such challenges before democracy were not insurmountable, he said, and outlined his own legacy of expanding healthcare and nursing the U.S economy back into life from the severe depression it was in when he took over. And race relations are better today than they were a few decades ago.

“That’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started,” he said. “Yes, we can,” the President said, reiterating the slogan that signified his 2008 electoral victory.

Mr. Obama called for “a new social compact”, “to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionise for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their success possible,” in order to protect the democratic order of the country.

In a clear caution against the anti-Muslim sentiments and arguments for American isolationism expressed by Mr. Trump and other leaders of the incoming administration, he said: “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. …we must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are… That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans.”

Mr. Obama noted that American democracy cannot be secure if it withdrew from global fights to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. “No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem,” he said. - The Hindu

 

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