“Yes, we did. Yes, we can,” was how President Barack Obama on Wednesday bade goodbye to Americans in an emotional speech, warning them of the threats to democracy from growing racism, inequality and discrimination, in an oblique reference to Donald Trump’s rise to power.
Refashioning his winning 2008 campaign mantra for 2017, Obama while addressing nearly 20,000 supporters in his hometown here asked them to hold fast to their optimism and to look within for leadership.
“I am asking you to believe not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours,” 55-year-old Obama said.
“I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents: ...Yes, we can,” he said in the prime time address that lasted 55 minutes.
“Yes, we did. Yes, we can”.
He cautioned Americans about threats to democracy, saying “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. 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.”
The outgoing President lamented that despite his historic election as the nation’s first black president in 2008, “race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”
“After my election, there was a talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic,” he acknowledged.
Obama’s presidency will come to an end on January 20 when Republican Trump would be sworn in as US’ 45th President. He promised a peaceful transfer of power to Trump.
Without mentioning Trump, he used his speech to offer an implicit rebuttal to many of the contentious themes like the temporary ban on Muslim immigration that characterised the 2016 presidential campaign.
Obama said he rejects discrimination against Muslim Americans, and drew cheers for saying they are “just as patriotic as we are”.
“... I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim-Americans,” Obama said.
“That’s why we cannot withdraw 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.
Obama warned his countrymen that American democracy is threatened whenever they take it for granted.
“All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote,” he said.