Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, we're in this together.
On Tuesday night, Barack Obama delivered his final public speech as the 44th president of the United States.
Speaking from his adopted hometown of Chicago, President Obama delivered a powerful, emotional address to a crowd of thousands and a TV audience of millions. The speech itself centered on the progress we've made as a country over the course of the past eight years — and how much further we have to go.
"Tonight, it’s my turn to say thanks," said Obama.
As a candidate, Obama campaigned on a message of hope. As he leaves the White House, his core message remains largely unchanged.
At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, then-Illinois state Senator Obama delivered a powerhouse speech pushing back against the cynicism and divisiveness that so often finds its way into politics. "The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats," he said. "But I've got news for them too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states."
If his speech then was the vision of an optimistic — if slightly naïve — man first dipping his toes into the national political arena, his farewell speech on Tuesday was the perfect bookend to a storied, improbable presidential career. If there's something to take away from his farewell, it's that through all the opposition and obstruction and challenges he's faced in his time in the Senate and White House, he still sees this country as the hopeful land he spoke of 12 years ago.
Whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, Obama's speech was a reminder that we all have a role to play in a thriving America.
A 240-year-old work in progress, the U.S. remains a relatively young, imperfect country. In his farewell speech, Obama took time to acknowledge the struggles that exist, cautioning against believing that things like discrimination on the basis of race or gender or religion or country of origin are things of the past. The fact is, they're not. That sort of utopian thinking is, in his words, a "threat to our democracy."
"After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America," Obama said. "And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I've lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago — no matter what some folks say. You can see it, now just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we're not where we need to be."
It's up to us to continue to work toward a more perfect union — starting with the belief that if all men (and women) are created equal, they should be treated as equals.
"We all have to try harder. We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do."
In just a few short days, Obama will leave office. His legacy of change, progress, and hope doesn't have to leave with him.
The 2016 presidential election was hard-fought, to say the least. It's easy for those whose candidate won to shut out those who disagree. It's easy for those whose candidate lost to feel a sense of hopelessness. It doesn't have to be that way.
The power of our democracy lies not in the politicians who represent us, but in the individuals who compose it. We the people are the ones who matter — all of us. It's that message that Obama shared in his final public words as president.
"I do have one final ask of you as your president," Obama said during his closing remarks. "The same thing I asked we took a chance ... eight years ago. I am asking you to believe not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours."
Whether or not you agree with him or his policies, we should all be able to agree that working together to create a more just society that cares for each of its members is far more productive than walling each other off.