President Obama on Tuesday marked the end of his presidency with the same message of hope that launched him into the White House, challenging Americans during a prime-time farewell address to renew their commitment to democratic values and persist in their optimism for change.
From his adopted hometown of Chicago, the city where he said he found purpose in public life, Obama reflected on his transition from the nation’s most powerful office to one he has said is just as vital: citizen.
Though Americans have largely grown more cynical about politics during his time in office, Obama said, he nonetheless continued to insist that change results when “ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it.”
“After eight years as your president, I still believe that,” he said. “And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.”
Obama’s focus was his optimism about civic engagement going forward after a bitter campaign to replace him and lingering concern about how President-elect Donald Trump will handle foreign relations, national security, the economy and other big-ticket issues.
He warned of further threats to American unity. Indeed, the audience booed when he spoke of the peaceful transition of power set to take place next week from him to Trump. He called for a new social compact to creating opportunity for all, or else “the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.”