Obama’s Farewell Address: A Call for Continued Progressivism and National Unity

On Tuesday night, delivering his farewell address to the city in which his political career began, President Obama spoke of his belief in the American people to lead this country towards a better country. Although the country faces threats from extremism, intolerance, and sectarianism, Obama continually speaks of his faith in the American people leading the country towards a greater state of equality.

Throughout his speech, Obama is certain to prove that his administration was not ideologically internalized. The people, speaking their minds and voicing their experiences, kept him honest and provided him with a greater idea of what America still is.

“Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people — in living rooms and in schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant military outposts — those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going. And every day, I have learned from you. You made me a better president, and you made me a better man.”

Furthermore, the gains and victories of his administration were not his alone. Whether the reversal of the great recession, the continued growth of the job market, the creation of universal health insurance, or the successes for marriage equality and equality for all genders was something that began as movements among the people. The actions and speech of the people was that which created the political momentum for greater progression as a people and a country.

“But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. The answer to people’s hopes and, because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

Obama is certain to give responsibility to the populace the triumphs that America has had for the past 8 years, but he is sure to remind them all that their downfalls are just as much their own. His statement that “despite our outward differences we’re all in this together,” rings true. No matter the differences between us – whether gender, sexual preference, race, income hierarchy, etc. – they are all people of this nation. That alone, under the constitution and basic principle, should make us all equal. They should be able to garner equal love, equal opportunities, and equal rights. However, that hasn’t been the case for the history of this country. While it is something that they work towards, attempting to give the disenfranchised an equal chance within all realms of life, it is something that still has not come about. No matter the color of their skin, or where they have come from, Obama is certain to remind us that while their plights should not be overlooked, they should equally not forget the other citizens of this nation.

“We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.

For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.”

No person should be stereotyped for the color of their skin, although that still happens. As a people, they cannot act as if the past had never happened, as a means of making themselves feel more comfortable, or to act as if they all have an equal opportunity as of the time being. Dependent on the region they live in, or the monetary class that they are a part of, they cannot forget those that are unlike us. In doing so, they create personal bubbles for ourselves, “safe spaces,” if you will, in which they relinquish the means of conversation and live within the constructed, and sometimes false, narrative that makes us personally comfortable. On the subject, Obama states that within these bubbles, they begin to”start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits their opinions, instead of basing their opinions on the evidence that is out there,” a cold warning towards the decline of political discourse. 

I will state that if there is one criticism I have of Obama’s Farewell Address, it stems from his comments on other races need in understanding the plight of white middle-America. This is a group of Americans that has been truthfully looked over in the past years and have further felt as if his administration did not give them enough attention. While some might argue with their qualms, they are still have a right to feel disenfranchised, no matter how that disenfranchisement might compare to other classes and races. Yet, while I agree with Obama’s statement, I believe that it comes rather late. As portrayed by the 2016 election result, Trump’s nomination largely came from lower and middle class white America’s support. Most notably, their feeling of being overlooked was heightened during the primaries and the election cycle, when the Democratic paid little attention to them. Hillary spoke infrequently about these people, while Trump made sure to talk about these people often, spending most of his time campaigning where the demographic was the largest. Obama, while on the campaign trail for Hillary, spent little time referencing these people also, rather talking about the state of inner cities and fears of the Republican candidate. Thus, their plight and feeling of disenfranchisement, in hindsight, is not that surprising, when the Democratic party and their candidates/campaigners game those people little to no attention. While I find Obama’s statement to be noble, in regards to assuring that all races get equal treatment and understanding from one another, I find it to be “little too late.” Perhaps if he had spent more time talking about this half a year ago we would have had a different outcome to the election.

This rift within the so-called “America,” still greatly affected by race and wealth tensions, has been further highlighted by this election cycle. However, as stated within Obama’s address to the various races that make America, there have been divisions that have been further stressed due to misunderstanding or stereotyping of other peoples, from one group to another. Deemed a year of post-truth, and rife with a political election cycle based more upon feelings than fact, mudslinging than debate, and basing factual evidence on tabloids rather than reputable journalism, they, as a country, have entered a state of being that has become stressed. Political beliefs has pushed people towards extremism rather than moderation and they have lost faith in holding their elected officials towards running with dignity and without corruption. However true, or believed, that this sentiment might be, Obama assures the American people that they cannot allow for it to stop the tides of their personal growth, assuring that it equality and freedom are not guaranteed.

“Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law, that’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured…

When we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt. And when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them. It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy. Embrace the joyous task we have been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours because, for all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud type, the most important office in a democracy, citizen.”

Speaking of the disgruntled, dismayed American people, upset with the coming state of political affairs, Obama calls for political activism – for people to fight for the freedoms, through speech, lobbying, and running against those politicians that they have no faith in. Referring back to his earlier statements in his address, he persuades people to continue towards excellence, no matter the condition. Alluding to the Millennial generation, he realizes the equality and opportunities that will be realized down the line, calling them “unselfish, altruistic, creative, (and) patriotic,” stating that they “are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward,” leaving the country in good hands. 

In closing, Obama asks for the American people to have faith and to believe in the future. Not to believe in himself, as he asked of us in 2008 or in 2012, but to believe in themselves.

“I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes, we can.”

Societal progression and national unity is not decided simply by those in the government alone. Instead, it comes from all of us. It just comes down to whether or not they are willing to take responsibility for their issues as a country and work together in resolving them, working towards a greater, more equal future.

Image credit: BusinessInsider

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