Obama has promised president-elect Donald Trump his administration will ensure ‘the smoothest possible transition’.
US president Barack Obama has made an emotional farewell speech that sought to comfort and encourage a country on edge over economic changes, persistent security threats and the election of Donald Trump.
Mr Obama’s valedictory speech in his home city of Chicago was a public meditation on the trials and triumphs, promises kept and promises broken that made up his eight years in the White House.
Arguing his faith in America had been confirmed, he said he ended his tenure inspired by its “boundless capacity” for reinvention, declaring: “The future should be ours.”
His delivery was forceful for the most part, but by the end he was wiping away tears as the crowd embraced him one last time. He and his wife Michelle hugged former aides and other audience members long after the speech ended.
Reflecting on the corrosive recent political campaign, Mr Obama, 55, said America’s great potential “will be realised only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now”.
He made only passing reference to Republican Donald Trump, who will replace him in just 10 days.
He said he pledged to Mr Trump that his administration would “ensure the smoothest possible transition” just as his predecessor George Bush did for him, and the nation’s politics needed to reflect “the decency” of the American people.
But when Mr Obama noted the imminence of that change and the crowd began booing, he responded, “No, no, no, no, no”, saying one of the nation’s great strengths “is the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next”.
The president acknowledged “stark inequality” was corrosive to America’s democratic principles, in a nod to the economic uncertainty that helped Mr Trump win the White House.
He said too many inner city and rural families had been left behind, convinced the “game is fixed against them” and the government serves only powerful interests.
And to cheers from the crowd, Mr Obama, referring to Donald Trump’s calls for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, said he rejected discrimination against Muslim Americans “just as patriotic as we are”.
Earlier, as the crowd chanted “Four more years”, he simply smiled and said: “I can’t do that.”
Nevertheless, during his speech Mr Obama carried out what seemed like a point-by-point rebuttal of Mr Trump’s vision for America.
He lamented politicians who question climate change and warned about the threat to US democracy posed by purposely deceptive fake “news” and a growing tendency of Americans to listen only to information that confirmed what they already believed.
Get out of your “bubbles”, said Mr Obama who rose to a prominence with a message of unity, challenging divisions of red states and blue states.
He also revived a call to activism that marked his first presidential campaign, telling Americans to stay engaged in politics, saying: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.”
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