President Obama, delivering a farewell address in the city that launched his political career, declared on Tuesday his continued confidence in the American experiment. But he warned, in the wake of a toxic presidential election, that economic inequity, racism and closed-mindedness threatened to shred the nation’s democratic fabric.
“We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others,” Mr. Obama said, “when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.”
Speaking to a rapturous crowd that recalled the excitement of his path-breaking campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama said he believed even the deepest ideological divides could be bridged. His words were nevertheless etched with frustration — a blunt coda to a remarkable day that laid bare many of the racial crosscurrents in the country.
Mr. Obama pledged again to support his successor. But his speech was a thinly veiled rebuke of several of the positions Mr. Trump staked out during the campaign, from climate change and barring Muslims from entering the country to repealing his landmark health care law.
“If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities,” Mr. Obama said, “then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclave.”
“If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s work force,” he added.
In giving a farewell address, Mr. Obama invoked a privilege of presidents going back to George Washington. He staked his claim as the leader who steered the nation through the storms of the Great Recession to a growing economy and job market. He claimed credit for reducing the rate of uninsured Americans to record lows, while keeping a cap on health care costs.