US President Barack Obama has held his farewell address. It is one of the few speeches by an outgoing president that will go down in the history books, believes DW's Miodrag Soric.
The tradition of holding a farewell address goes back to the first American president, George Washington. Such a speech has a two-fold purpose: it is a look back at what has been achieved and it is also a look to the future, at the challenges that the country and the new administration will be facing. Most of the farewell addresses held by out-going presidents have not gone down in the history books. Many speeches were nothing but convoluted self-praise, a last defense as to why certain decisions were made during the term of office. One exception was the speech made by Dwight Eisenhower, who warned of the dangerously growing power of the military-industrial complex.
And now we have the highly emotional farewell address by Barack Obama who, to the surprise of many, held an extremely optimistic speech.
This was unexpected perhaps, because in many policy areas, his opinion could not be farther from that of his elected successor, Donald Trump, who has already announced that he hopes to reverse many of the things achieved in the last eight years.
What a tragedy: President Obama's political legacy depends, in part, on what Trump decides to keep.
A scandal-free president - that's more than his successor can say
Obama suspected this. But he did not let it shake his confidence. His faith in the American people, in their values, in his country's constitution seems unshaken. US democracy will only be in danger when the American people take it for granted, he said in Chicago, the city where his political career began, a career that in the end led him to the White House. This was where, as a young senator, he called on his fellow countrymen to become socially and politically involved and not to fall into cynicism or become disheartened by setbacks.
This was a statesman speaking, a man with integrity, radiating dignity, whose presidency did not include even a whiff of scandal. This is such a contrast to Trump, who before his term in office has even begun, has managed to fill the headlines with embarrassing claims, enmities and slapstick comedy. And while Obama was in Chicago, appealing to the ideals of the people, the American intelligence service was informing the political elite in Washington that the Russian secret service has potentially compromising material on Trump. The symbolism of that moment! The difference could not be more blatant.
Obama should be proud
Admittedly, Obama is vain. In his farewell address, he listed the achievements made during his presidency: extensive economic rescue in 2009, the low levels of unemployment, Obamacare, Bin Laden's punishment, new policies on climate change, the Iran deal and the fresh start in relations with Cuba. And why shouldn't he mention these successes? Particularly since the Republicans did everything possible to make this president's life difficult. America is, in fact, in better shape than it was eight years ago. Obama has a reason to be proud of what has been achieved.
The expectations of this president were unrealistic from the beginning. There is still a huge divide been rich and poor. America's racism problem hasn't disappeared just because an Afro-American was elected to the White House. Obama never wanted his presidency to be shaped by the color of his skin. As Obama said, change takes time - and in large parts of his speech he sounded like he did at the very beginning of his term in office. He sounded like someone who cares deeply about education and upward mobility for the poor and for immigrants, as well as health insurance for everyone and equal rights for minorities.
Obama is still in office. But many Americans miss him already.
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