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Obama Appeals for Unity, Warns of Threats to Democracy

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U.S. President Barack Obama waves after finishing his farewell speech in Chicago, Illinois, January 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
U.S. President Barack Obama waves after finishing his farewell speech in Chicago, Illinois, January 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

In his final speech as president, Barack Obama said he is more hopeful now than when he was first elected.

He called for unity and for all Americans to stay involved in the country’s democracy.

Obama went home to Chicago, Illinois to give his last speech as president. He leaves office on January 20.

Chicago was where his political career started more than 20 years ago. On Tuesday night, he spoke to thousands of supporters.

'Thank you! It's good to be home! Thank you!'

Obama took a look back on his eight years as president. He said the United States is a “better, stronger place” than when he took office in 2009.

People cheered as he listed some of the things his administration has done.

'If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran's nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11…if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens ... if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high...'

Recognizing the current political divide in the country, Obama urged Americans to seek common ground with one another. He said that while 'democracy does not require uniformity,' it does 'require a basic sense of solidarity.'

Obama is the first African American to serve as president of the United States. After his election, there was talk of a “post-racial” America — one where race is not important. But Obama said race is a still a “potent and often divisive force” -- meaning that it is still a strong issue, and one that divides people.

The president warned that the nation faces threats to democracy, such as issues of economic and racial inequality.

Obama said the United States has to guard against weakening its values because of fear. One of the loudest cheers he received was when he said he rejects discrimination against Muslim Americans.

The president said he was more hopeful about the country now than when he took office. He called on Americans to stay involved in the democratic process.

'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...'

It was a return to his 2008 campaign saying “Yes, we can.”

REUTERS Obama Farewell Address
REUTERS Obama Farewell Address

Some observers say the president’s comments sounded more like a campaign speech than a traditional farewell address.

Larry Sabato is a political scientist with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He told VOA the speech was different from others given by presidents before they left office.

“Certainly, it was untraditional, we’ve never had a farewell address like this. One can only imagine what George Washington, or for that matter Dwight Eisenhower, who had the most famous farewell address, would have thought of this manner of delivery. It was more like a political rally.”

Sabato says Obama leaves office with a mixed record. He thinks the president achieved a fair amount, but he adds, 'it’s also true that we’re more divided than ever.” And he notes, most of the speech was about positions and actions that Donald Trump wants to amend or end in the coming years.

“When we think back on this speech, we’re going to realize that most of what President Obama talked about is no longer reality...”

In less than two weeks, Trump will be sworn-in as president. And Barack Obama will return to being a private citizen.

Obama says he will stay involved as a citizen. He plans to stay in Washington while his youngest daughter finishes high school.

I’m Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English with material from VOA reports. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit us on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

common ground – n. basing something on a common interest or agreement

uniform adj. having the same form

solidarity n. unity that is based on community interests or beliefs

divisive adj. creating disunity

abolitionist – n. a person who works toward the end of slavery

creed n. a statement of beliefs

farewell adj. of or related to a wish of well-being when leaving someone or something

address – n. a speech

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