CHICAGO – President Obama used his farewell speech in his home town Tuesday to defend his imperiled legacy and press a broad, optimistic vision for the country that seems more divided than ever.
“Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody,” he said. “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.”
Obama has sought to rise above the rancorous politics of the past few months and the stunning presidential election that resulted in the defeat of his chosen successor and a Republican sweep of Congress.
He celebrated the impending inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president: “In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next,” Obama said.
Harkening back to his time spent as a community organizer in Chicago, the president declared, “This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”
Obama spoke before a crowd of 20,000 at McCormick Place, one of the largest convention centers in the country and the site of his 2012 campaign victory address.
In that speech Obama promised a cheering crowd of supporters that “the best is yet to come.” The president, whose approval rating has surged even as his party’s fortunes have suffered, sketched a similar optimistic vision.
The last months of his presidency have tested his confidence and optimism in ways that he never expected. First, there was a violent summer of police shootings and protests that highlighted the country’s deep divisions and the limits of any single president to speak to a fractious and frustrated nation.