In his final speech as President of United States, President Obama asked Americans to unite and protect the country’s democracy.
In Chicago, Obama said that America’s democracy was being threatened by racism, inequality and a corrosive political environment.
“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,” Obama said after completing 8 years in office.
The 55-year-old 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.”
Obama’s presidency will come to an end on January 20 when Republican Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the US.
Obama promised a peaceful transfer of power to Trump in the coming days.
Without mentioning Trump, he used his speech to offer an implicit rebuttal to many of the contentious themes like 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 in his speech.
“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…When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes,” he said.
“And all of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings,” he added.
He also warned economic divisions have intensified racial divisions, particularly at a time when the growth of the nation’s Hispanic population continues.
“If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce,” he warned.
He said no one can defeat America unless “we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight”.
“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 neighbours,” he stressed.
He insisted that change results when “ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it”.
In his closing remarks he said he had one final request for Americans as president: “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”
Obama also thanked his family – his wife Michelle Obama and his daughters Sasha and Malia for supporting him throughout.
The First Lady received a standing ovation after Obama thanked her.
“You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humour. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody…And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You’ve made me proud. You’ve made the country proud,” said Obama in praise of Michelle.
(With inputs from agencies)