Outgoing president gives proud account of his eight years in office and pays moving tribute to Michelle, wife, mom of my children and best friend

Yes we can, he said one last period. Yes we did. And the crowd roared.

Barack Obama the son of a Kenyan goat herder and self-described skinny kid with a funny name who grew up to become Americas first black president had come to say goodbye.

But while for most of the past eight years it had seemed this night would be one of joy and nostalgia , now it came with a sober note, laden with omens and warns about a democracy under siege.

Obama had hoped to be talking about occur on the baton to fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton. Instead Donald Trumps stunning victory connoted an existential threat and called for him to paint on a bigger canvas. In a state of our democracy speech he deftly concentrated his flame not on the president-elect but on the malaise that produced him. In 4,300 terms he only mentioned Trump by name once but delivered much by way of repudiation.

Obama dismissed talk of post-racial America, in vogue after his own ascending in 2008, as unrealistic. He defended the rights of immigrants and Muslim Americans. He lambasted those who refuse to accept the science of climate change. He warned of the threat posed by the rise of naked partisanship, with people retreating into their own self-confirming bubbles.

There was not, perhaps, the penetrating feeling of Obamas greatest speeches. But when he came to thank his wife, Michelle, for standing by him through it all, an eulogy that prompted one of the biggest cheers of the night, he wept.

They were back in their home city, Chicago, albeit in the unromantic surrounds of a darknes and cavernous convention dorm with giant US flag, presidential seal and TV screens. The make-up of the audience male and female, young and old, diverse in race and religion was itself a statement about who he was and what he stood for. They cheered and roared and whistled, rising in a wall of human noise, holding his memory tight.

Every day I learned from you, Obama told the audience. You stimulated me a better chairwoman and you attained me a better man.

Michelle
Michelle and Malia Obama react to the outgoing chairpeople tribute. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ AP

It had been 2,989 days since the Obamas were greeted by almost a one-quarter of a million advocates gathered in Chicagos Grant Park on election night in 2008. Maybe you still cant think that we pulled this whole thing off, he said wistfully.

And before he reached his stride there was an eruption from the audience. Four more years! Four more years! Four more years! they chanted. The president raised his hand and replied: I cant do that! This is not a autocracy, after all.

In 10 days the world will witness a hallmark of our republic, Obama said. That elicited some boos, but he pressed on: The peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next. Now there was applause. I committed to president-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.

Over the past eight years Obama has travelled countries around the world extolling the American experiment in democracy, acknowledging its flaws but insisting that it discords for a more perfect union. He little expected to be objective his second word having to defend the great project on his home turf.

Democracy depended on equality, he argued, and the economy was growing again. But this was not enough. Stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles a recipe for more cynicism and polarisation in our politics.

Then he named a second menace to democracy. After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.

Upholding laws against discrimination alone would not be enough, he told, adding that hearts must change. In a nod to the discontent in rust belt states that helped propel Trump to victory, he continued: For blacks and other minorities it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like hes got all the advantages, but whos considered his world upended by economic, cultural and technological change.

But he added: For white Americans it entails acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didnt suddenly vanish in the 60 s; that when ethnic minority groups voice discontent theyre not only engaging in reverse racism or practising political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest theyre not demanding special treatment, but the equal rights our founders promised.

Obama went on to tackle a hot topic in the wake of last years bitterly divisive presidential election: deep polarisation, even around what facts people eat. For too many of us its become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our presumptions.

The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every savor all this stimulates this large sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept merely datum, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence thats out there.

Citing climate change as two examples, he added: Without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and be recognized that your foe is making a fair phase, and that science and reason matter, well keep talking past one another, building common ground and compromise impossible.

Democracy was threatened when taken for granted, Obama said , noting the relatively low turnout in US elections. Our constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But its actually simply a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own.

Democracy needs you, he told an estimated audience of 18, 000. Not just when theres an election , not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If youre tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life.

If something wants fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organising. If youre disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Prove up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes youll win. Sometimes youll lose More often than not your faith in America and in Americans will be confirmed.

George Washingtons parting address warned of the divisiveness of political parties. Dwight Eisenhowers warned of the rise of the military industrial complex. So Obama cannot assume his words will be heeded.

His professorial side had been at the fore all night. But when he came to thank his family there was a shifting. Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, daughter of the south side[ of Chicago ], for the past 25 years, youve been not only my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. You took on a role you didnt ask for and you attained it your own with grace and grit and style, and good humour. You built the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher since it had you as a role model. Youve made me proud. Youve made the country proud.

Teary Barack Obama thanks Michelle in farewell speech

Michelle sat in the front row. The mob erupted around her and gave an extended ovation. Beside her the couples daughter Malia welled up with tears.

Obama also paid tribute to Malia and sister Sasha the latter absent due to local schools exam in Washington the next day saying: Of all that Ive done in my life Im most proud to be your dad.

Michelle and Malia, along with the vice-president, Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, joined the president on stage to more cheers and goodbye waves from the crowd.

Sheila Baldwin, a 64 -year-old African American, who got her ticket on Saturday after queuing from 5am, told: My ancestors would appreciate and insist I see this historic event. It was thrilling for us to find my mother, who is 91, witness the first black president; now to see it arrive full circle is a wonderful moment.

Obama shook hands with advocates, including civil right fight veteran Jesse Jackson, and stepped out of the spotlight. To the end he seemed composed and serene: a human at peace with himself.

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