The President looked back to his early days as a community organizer and how he “learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”
And: “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.”
In closing: “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.... Yes We Can. Yes We Did. Yes We Can.” [Full transcript of President Obama's farewell speech]
Maybe you would dismiss all that as pretty rhetoric but it was hard not to be struck by the vulgarity of the next morning’s news conference.
By contrast, president-elect Trump was boisterously selling his Trump brand throughout his news conference, pledging what he was going to do, who he liked (his people, ‘brilliant’) and who he didn’t like (the ‘fake’ news media, intelligence agency leakers, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schummer). With president-elect Trump it’s all about Trump and the American people will get what he’s promised because Trump and ‘his people’ are successful people and they are successful because they are smart. [Full transcript of Trump press conference]
After I watched President Obama’s speech, I wondered whether he had expected too much of us citizens, asked too much for our engagement in the civil process of self-government. A thoughtful friend also pondered: “I fear we are a nation of greedy people, and that is the most depressing. You are right, he asks more than the country is made up of. Maybe the next generation? We keep talking about what went wrong - maybe that declaration of independence was taken too literally and people are too independent and not enough dependent on each other.”
But after I listen to the bully braggart who promises he will “Make America Great Again,” I wondered what my part would be in his America. Where would teamwork and inclusiveness and diversity and cooperation be welcomed and not looked upon as impediments to the success of those in power? If what President Obama asked of us citizens was too hard, then maybe folks would just rather sit back and let Trump and his cronies turn the United States of America into Trump America?
I doubt it. Not without our say-so. Our America. We the people. We can. We will.
Thank you, President Obama.