U.S. President Barack Obama returned to his adopted hometown of Chicago on Tuesday to defend his legacy.
Obama urged Americans to protect democracy from challenges both at home and abroad, in his final public speech before he leaves office.
“Yes we can; yes we did,’’ he said, echoing the slogan of his
2008 presidential campaign, as he was joined on stage at
McCormick Place by first lady Michelle Obama and elder
He echoed the slogan after delivering his final presidential
address from the city where he launched his political career.
Obama drew a standing ovation even before his remarks had
begun from a crowd of 18,000 Chicagoans, supporters, cabinet
secretaries and White House staff.
The moment was bittersweet, as Obama reflected on eight
years in office, pointing to economic accomplishments along
with the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
He is also reflecting on the opening of diplomatic ties with
Cuba and an international nuclear deal with Iran as
developments that would have seemed unbelievable when he
entered office in 2009.
Republican Donald Trump, who will take office after Obama on
January 20, hopes to roll back many of those accomplishments
and the crowd booed when Obama mentioned the impending
“Four more years,’’ some chanted, echoing cries from his 2012
In his speech, Obama avoided directly criticising Trump but
denounced the divisiveness that has characterised U.S. politics
and urged an inclusiveness that runs counter to much of
“Attempts to divide Americans along with rancor and coarse
political dialogue weaken the ties that bind the nation,’’ Obama
“It’s up to all of us to make sure we can meet the many
challenges we still face,’’ Obama said.
The United States contained great potential, Obama said, “but
that potential will only be realised if our democracy works, only
if our politics better reflects the decency of our people.
“Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation help restore the
sense of common purpose we so badly need right now.’’
Obama, the first African American president, told supporters
that his election had not defeated racism in the U.S. as many
had hoped, with ongoing racial violence dividing the nation.
“Hearts must change,’’ Obama said, quoting literary icon Atticus
Finch from the classic novel to Kill a Mockingbird.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things
from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk
around in it,’’ Obama said.
Obama also warned against political polarisation, saying
Americans are increasingly isolating themselves with those who
share similar political views and dismiss information that does
not support their existing opinions.
“We rise or fall as one,’’ Obama said.
“Regardless of the station we occupy, we have to try harder to
start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this
country just as much as we do,’’ he said.
The 55-year-old also turned his attention to international affairs
in his speech, saying global order was being challenged not just
by terrorists but also by “autocrats in foreign capitals.’’
These people “see free markets, open democracies, and civil
society itself as a threat to their power,’’ Obama said, echoing
past characterisations he has made of Russian President
Obama also pointed to advances in defeating terrorist threats,
including the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and
vowed continued action against the extremist militia
organisation Islamic State, also referred to as The Islamic State
of Iraq and the Levant ISIL.
“ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat
America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in
the fight,’’ he said.
“Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around
the world unless we give up what we stand for, and turn
ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller
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