Obama’s Final Speech: We Rise or Fall as One

The outgoing US president calls on supporters to defend his legacy while Trump’s Cabinet choices face protests
Barack Obama made his final speech as US president in Chicago on Jan. 10.Barack Obama made his final speech as US president in Chicago on Jan. 10.

Barack Obama has addressed the US and the world for the final time as president, in an emotional speech that listed the landmark achievements of his presidency and stressed unity as nation.

Capping his eight years in the White House, Obama returned on Tuesday to his adoptive hometown of Chicago to recast his “Yes we can” campaign credo as “Yes we did”, Aljazeera reported.

He summarized his achievements from the Iran nuclear deal to reforming healthcare. Much of the speech was also dedicated to lifting up supporters shaken by president-elect Donald Trump’s election.

Obama called on them to pick up the torch, fight for democracy and forge a new “social compact”.

“For all our outward differences, we are all in this together,” he said warning that partisanship, racism and inequality all threatened democracy.

“We rise or fall as one. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”

The incoming Republican president has smashed conventions, vowed to efface Obama’s legacy and hurled personal insults left and right, while in a virtually unprecedented move US intelligence has accused the Kremlin of seeking to tip the election in Trump’s favor.

Democrats, cast into the political wilderness with the loss of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives plus a majority of statehouses, are struggling to regroup.

Obama painted the task ahead as a generational challenge.

“A faith in reason and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might”, he said, had allowed the United States to “resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression and build a post-World War II order with other democracies.”

In comments that resonate as Americans ponder whether Russia helped to put Trump in the White House, Obama said “that order is now being challenged”.

“First by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile,” he said.

Obama was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, who the president described as “family” in an emotional finale to his speech.

With an approval rating hovering around 55%, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, Obama still carries considerable political weight.

 Trump Cabinet and Protests

Civil liberties campaigners and activists seize on Republican Jeff Sessions’ appearance before groups that espouse anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views.

The Senate confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s choice for attorney general, has been marred by interruptions.

Two men wearing costumes of Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist organization with a history of fatal racist attacks on people of color, were ejected from the building on Tuesday after they disrupted the hearing.

Security removed them from the room as they yelled mockingly “You can’t arrest me, I am white!” and “White people own this government.”

Other protesters later erupted in the chant: “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”

He was rejected for a federal judgeship by the Senate Judiciary Committee 30 years ago amid accusations of racism.

In a prepared opening statement, Sessions said that he understood “the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters”.

He also said accusations of racism were “damnably false charges”.

During a 1994 campaign for Alabama attorney general, Sessions came out in support of chain gangs—the forced labor of prisoners—and life sentences for children as young as 14, the progressive Mother Jones news site reports.

Sessions has also accused the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People civil rights group and the American Civil Liberties Union of being “un-American”, according to Gerald Hebert, a former justice department civil rights attorney who worked with Sessions in Alabama.

Speaking in New York City on Monday, Trump described Sessions as a “high-quality man”.

Separately, John Kerry, the outgoing US secretary of state, said on Tuesday that there has been little contact between officials of the Department of State and Trump’s transition team.

Asked about the transition process at a forum in Washington DC on Tuesday, Kerry said, “It’s going pretty smoothly because there’s not an enormous amount of it.”

Kerry said he had not yet met the man Trump has picked to take over as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, but expected to do so soon.

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