U.S. President Barack Obama gave a farewell speech Tuesday night, looking back at his legacy while others recalled that he fell short of his most notable campaign promise regarding closing Guantanamo prison, as well as his controversial policy of drone war and the many wars and interventions carried out under his watch.
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The Democratic president was feeling some nostalgia as he prepares to leave the White House on Jan. 20 after eight years in office.
"I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life," Obama said.
"It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss," he continued.
His top policy achievements were jolted by the Nov. 8 election of Trump, who has threatened to undo Obama's actions on issues ranging from advancing healthcare reform to curbing climate change.
However one of the most notable promises Obama failed to deliver on is shutting down Guantanamo, which was set up by his predecessor George W. Bush and where hundreds of people have been kept without charges or trials, facing torture and mistreatment by U.S. military and intelligence interrogators.
Obama’s legacy will also be marked by the drone war which was his unique approach towards the so-called "war on terror." The Obama administration has launched nine times more strikes with unmanned systems in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia than his predecessors.
Obama has also been dubbed the “deporter-in-chief” by migrant justice advocates because he deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history. Between 2009 and 2015 his administration deported more than 2.5 million people through immigration orders.
But Obama spent much of his speech reviewing the few achievements of his administration such as the not-so-popular Obamacare, the federal legalization of gay marriage as well as the Iran and Cuba deals.
Obama said that the economy is better than it was 10 years ago at the time of the financial crisis of 2008, just before he took office. Some say he failed to better the lives of people of color and poor white workers, which could be directly blamed for the rise of Donald Trump and white nationalism.
He touched on racial issues in the United States and said that while it has changed from decades ago it remains a very divisive issue in U.S. society.
“For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society,” he told the crowd, adding that race relations are nonetheless better than they were 10 years ago, even though the country has been in the midst of social unrest over police killings and brutality against Black people and other people of color over the past few years and the openly racist Trump is about to occupy the oval office.
“All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard-working white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”
But many say this is exactly what happened under his presidency, as indexes show that the poor have gotten poorer and the rich have gotten richer in this period.
Amid a rise in Islamophobia, Obama said, “I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” even though attacks against Arabs have been ongoing since Sept. 11, 2001.
Before thanking his family and Vice President Joe Biden, he said people in the U.S. have to move away from their computer screens and try to make a real change to stop what many fear is a Trump administration that will bring a grim future to the country.
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life,” says Obama. “If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”
Overall, the speech invoked a new beginning, which some argued seemed strange from a president who could have kept many of his campaign promises, especially during his first term when he had a majority in congress.
Obama plans to remain in Washington for the next two years while his younger daughter, Sasha, finishes high school.