In his final speech to the nation as the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama offered a strong defense of American democracy and pluralism, telling the nation that its form of government relies on goodwill and tolerance.
“Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift,” Obama said. “But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power—with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”
Speaking at McCormick Place in Chicago—just a couple miles south of Grant Park, where he first spoke to the nation as president-elect in November 2008—the president outlined his major accomplishments and thanked voters, his family, and his staff. But Obama also outlined what he saw as a three-pronged threat to American democracy, in a speech that could only be heard as a detailed rebuke of Donald Trump, the man who will replace him in the White House in 10 days’ time.
Obama has always enjoyed playing the role of social theorist, and he took one last opportunity to expound his theory from the bully pulpit. The litany of locations and events he mentioned mapped out his vision of a United States where people of color, women, and gay and lesbian Americans are not simply included but are indeed integral to the identity of the nation—from the founding to Western expansion, the Underground Railroad to “immigrants and refugees” who came across the sea and, pointedly, the Rio Grande, suffragettes to labor organizers, activists who fought for the civil rights of African Americans and LGBT Americans alike, and soldiers from Omaha Beach to Afghanistan.