President Obama rose to power as the country’s first African-American president with a message of hope and boundless optimism for the future.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible…who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” he told crowds in Chicago in 2008 after winning the election.
In all the years since he never wavered from his mission to help foster in America what he once called the “renewal of morality”.
Unlike Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and so many others before him, this is a president unblemished by scandal.
The president acted presidential even behind closed doors: even his closest aides fail to recall moments when Mr. Obama gave way to roiling anger. Emotions have rarely muddled the academic rigor of his mind.
White House staffers have nicknamed him the ‘Colombo president’, after the famous television detective who always catches the killer with his questions.
So inquisitive is Mr. Obama, one senior aide said, that he has changed the traditional length of memos written for a sitting president. “A science brief was placed on his desk. It had been kept to two pages as is usual,” the aide said. “It came back the next day with three words written by the president in the top right-hand corner: ‘where’s the rest?'”
It is because of this that his speech on Tuesday night was all the more remarkable: after eight years of preaching change and hope, President Obama ended his leadership with an urgent and fearful warning about the state of American democracy.
It was a thinly veiled slight to the divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump’s election campaign, which included attacks on Muslims, the disabled, women, and immigrants.
“If we don’t create the opportunity for all people, the disaffection, and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come,” President Obama said.
Mr. Obama has been criticized by African American communities for failing to address race issues in the country during his time in office.
But in these final moments, he warned of racism as a poison to democracy. He called on African Americans and other minorities to tie their “own struggles for justice” to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – including the middle-aged white man who “may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change”.
And he called on white Americans to acknowledge that “the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s”.
Mr. Obama made only passing reference to the next president. When he noted he would soon be replaced by the Republican, his crowd began to boo.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Obama said. One of the nation’s great strengths, he said, “is the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next.”
President Obama may have done all he could to help the peaceful transition of power to the president-elect, but he became emotional as he prepared to pass the baton of the country he loved to a man whom he does not trust.
He became urgent, a tear in his eye, as he talked about needing to “guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are”.
Brushing away tears with a handkerchief, President Obama paid tribute to the sacrifices made by his wife – and by his daughters, who were young girls when they entered the big white home on Pennsylvania Avenue and leave as young women.
He praised the first lady Michelle Obama for taking on her role “with grace and grit and style and good humor” and for making the White House “a place that belongs to everybody.”
As he prepared to step away from the stage one final time he seemed to be passing on the stewardship of America not to Mr. Trump, but to the nation’s people.
In a tweet, President Obama said thanks to Americans for standing by him for the past eight years; reiterating those words of hope, “Yes We Can, Yes We Did, Yes We Can, Thank You” after he finished his speech.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 11, 2017
Shortly after he concluded his farewell speech, he tweeted, “Thank you for everything. My last ask is same as my first. I’m asking you to believe – not in my ability to create change, but in yours”
Thank you for everything. My last ask is the same as my first. I'm asking you to believe—not in my ability to create change, but in yours.
— President Obama (@POTUS) January 11, 2017
Americans will miss a popular but politically humble President Obama. It’s 10 days left before Trump’s inauguration and Americans are going to witness a Transition from Democrat leadership to Republican. Many are still scared what they are going to see from the incoming President of the United States.
More to follow.