NEW DELHI: To deafening chants of “four more years”, US President Barack Obama, in his final address as President today , cautioned against everything that incoming President Donald Trump has publicly espoused, including anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, pro-Russian and pro-rich sentiments.
As he ascended the stage in Chicago, the crowds roared “four more years, four more years”, even as Obama tried to quiet the very emotional gathering of people who had come to see off the man who finally avenged 9/11, made gay marriage legal and ensured healthcare for all Americans. But today, that man failed to quiet the crowd.
“You can tell I’m a lame duck, because no one is following my instructions,” Obama joked, at the start of his address, and followed that up with a big “thank you” to all Americans who gave him a chance to serve as US President. Through most of his speech, Obama was calm and collected – he even joked about people who use social media – but towards the end, as he thanked his wife Michelle , his two daughters and vice president Joe Biden, he teared up.
In his almost-hour long speech, Obama never strayed from one message – that the US democracy is what it is because of its inclusiveness and its promise of equality of economic opportunity for all, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual identity. The thrust of the speech couldn’t have been clearer, as Americans head into four years of a Trump presidency. Of a Trump who has publicly vilified women, the weak, immigrants and the poor. Of a Trump who was democratically elected.
“In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy,” Obama said, and that statement’s import wasn’t lost on the crowd. The reference was obvious. America voted Trump to power , and American democracy must go on. But not without the strictest vigilance to ensure equal rights for all.
“Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system… we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans. 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,” Obama said.
The US President stressed the importance of economic and social equality, not for a select few, but for all. Again here, the reference was to Trump who has talked about Mexican immigrants being “rapists”, about building a wall “to keep out Mexicans” and even about banning Muslims from entering the US . That last election promise of Trump’s has watered down some, since he was elected November 8.
That equality that the US constitution has granted has yet to be fully realized, Obama said.
“But we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. 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,” Obama said.
Obama also talked about foreign policy and how foreign powers can also be a threat to US democracy.
“So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot 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 neighbors,” Obama said, clearly referring to US intelligence agencies confirming that Russia hacked the US elections to Trump’s advantage.
Trump has publicly expressed his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and has dismissed claims of any hacking. In fact, Trump has done it very publicly, thanks to his prolific use of microblogging site Twitter, which appears to be the President-elect’s favourite means of communication.
The internet – and the misinformation it spreads – was never more evident than it was during these US elections. Joking about that was something Obama couldn’t resist.
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life,” Obama said to approving applause.
Eight years ago, as Obama ascended the stage following a phenomenal showing in the hustings, his campaign song, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ was played.
Today, Obama ended his US Presidency by harking back to his 2008 campaign slogan – albeit with a twist.