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Obama calls on Americans to fight for democracy in farewell speech

Outgoing US President Barack Obama has said goodbye and thanked supporters during his presidential farewell speech in Chicago. Obama used the speech to underscore the power of ordinary people to create change.

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Highlights from Obama's farewell speech

President Barack Obama reaffirmed his belief that change only happens when "ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it" during his farewell speech on Tuesday.

Addressing thousands of supporters at McCormick Place in Chicago, the same city where he gave his presidential victory speech in 2008, the outgoing president said change was the "beating heart of our American idea - our bold experiment in self-government."

Obama, who cultivated his empowering brand of American politics in Chicago, said the city had taught him that change starts at the grassroots level.

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"I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life," Obama told Chicagoans. "This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it."

"After eight years as your president, I still believe that," Obama told a crowd of loyal fans, many of whom were demoralized by Donald Trump's shock election triumph in November.

At one point, the president was interrupted by chants of "Four more years!" to which he smiled and responded "I can't do that."

External challenges

The president warned supporters of the challenges facing the post-World War II order, namely the threat of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) jihadi group and the challenges facing democracy. 

"Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear," Obama said. "So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are."

Amid increasing resentment being directed at the mainstream political establishment, Obama urged the US not to "betray our constitution" by shying away from its role in the world and withdrawing from global conflicts. The likelihood of war increases and freedoms are threatened, Obama said, "if the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world." 

Obama also sought to rally his supporters to fight for democracy and forge a new "social compact." America's great "potential will be realized only if our democracy works," he said, before urging all American voters to "throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions."

Commenting on Twitter, DW Washington correspondent Ines Pohl said Obama's speech "will inspire a whole generation."

Emphasis on 'peaceful transition'

In the aftermath of Trump's victory, Obama acknowledged that progress has been "uneven," and that for "every two steps forwards, it often feels we take one step back."

But the country, Obama said, strives for "forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some."

Obama again promised to ensure a peaceful transition of power to the incoming president later this month.

Obama leaves the White House with an approval rating of around 55 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Democrats will hope to be able to leverage his popularity as they find themselves cast into the political wilderness, having lost the White House, Senate and House of Representatives in November's presidential election.

Despite the gloomy immediate outlook facing Democrats, Obama stressed the success of his eight years as president.

"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 - you might have said our sights were set a little too high."

He capped off his speech by referencing his first campaign in 2008, saying "Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we can."

Watch video 03:15

Obama leaves White House with mixed legacy

dm/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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