So now we continue with our close reading of the Obama farewell speech, despite the Trump Administration removing the transcript from its location at whitehouse.gov/farewell. Along with pages on LGBT rights, climate change, health care, and civil rights.
Our transcript source is now The New York Times, for as long as it is allowed to post it.
We left off in part 1 with President Obama talking about his time as a grassroots political organizer in Chicago:
Now this is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.
After eight years as your president, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.
—Those last two sentences are so critically important: we must participate in our democracy in order to uphold it. It doesn’t matter what kind of change you want. You have to act for it, and support others who take action.
That action should be informed by nothing other than our founding principles:
of due process before the law…
of equality of opportunity…
of no discrimination based on race, creed, or sex…
…of liberty and justice for all. Any change, any movement, any one that does not support these things is un-American. So erasing gay people and non-white people is not supporting our democracy. It is un-American.
It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.
What a radical idea, the great gift that our Founders gave to us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, and toil, and imagination — and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.
—These founding principles are indeed a gift and an imperative. We have to work to maintain them—they are not self-perxetuating. We will have them for as long as we want them. When Americans top wanting everyone in this country to be treated as equal, our democracy will end.
For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.
It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan — and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.
—All of those examples in the second paragraph are concrete manifestations of “liberty and justice for all.” All of the people mentioned are true Americans.
So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional. Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.
—It would seem the president had been reading our blog! Especially our About page.
When we face people saying they want to make America great again, we must ask them what they mean by that. Whose lives will be made better? What should be changed? What exactly isn’t great? How can we solve problems by expanding civil rights rather than curtailing them?
We’ll leave off here for now. Next time, the ridiculous red herring of “the peaceful transfer of power.”