Full transcript: President Obama's final 'farewell' speech to the nation

It's good to be home. My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well-wishes we've received over the past few weeks. But tonight it's my turn to say thanks. Whether we've seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people – in living rooms and schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant outposts – are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going. Every day, I learned from you. You made me a better president, and you made me a better man.

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. 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. This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and 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.

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.

This is the great gift our Founders gave us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.

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, pushed women to reach for the ballot, 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.

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.

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President Obama's final farewell address
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President Obama's final farewell address

U.S. President Barack Obama wipes away tears as he delivers his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Barack Obama is joined onstage by Vice President Joe Biden after his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs his wife Michelle as Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife Jill look on after the President delivered a farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/John Gress)

US President Barack Obama gestures before speaking during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

US first lady Michelle Obama holds her daughter Malia as US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama arrives for his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.

(Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd as he arrives to deliver his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/John Gress)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L-R), his wife Jill Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and her daughter Malia Obama stand for the national anthem before President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Supporters listen as US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

US First Lady Michelle Obama, daughter Malia, and US President Barack Obama hug after the President delivered his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Supporters attend President Barack Obama's farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election. / AFP / Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden points at a photographer before a farewell address by President Barack Obama, not pictured, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Obama blasted 'zero-sum' politics as he drew a sharp contrast with his successor in his farewell address Tuesday night, acknowledging that despite his historic election eight years ago his vision for the country will exit the White House with him.

(Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Supporters attend President Barack Obama's farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama is joined by Michelle and Malia after his farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.

(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Music artist Eddie Vedder preforms before US President Barack Obama gives his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

US First Lady Michelle Obama, daughter Malia, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden wait for President Barack Obama to deliver his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 10: President Barack Obama delivers a farewell speech to the nation on January 10, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in the as the 45th president on January 20. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

US First Lady Michelle Obama hugs daughter Malia after US President Barack Obama delivered his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters attend President Barack Obama's farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and her daughter Malia embrace as President Barack Obama praises them during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Guests listens as President Barack Obama delivers a farewell speech to the nation on January 10, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in the as the 45th president on January 20.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

The Reverend Jesse Jackson, US civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and politician waits for US President Barack Obama to give his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chicago Children's Choir perform before the start of the farewell address by U.S. President Barack Obama, not pictured, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Obama will draw an implicit contrast with his successor in his farewell address, acknowledging that despite his historic election eight years ago his vision for the country will exit the White House with him.

(Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, their daughter Malia, Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife Jill acknowledge the crowd after President Obama delivered a farewell address at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/John Gress)

US President Barack Obama speaks during his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois on January 10, 2017. Barack Obama closes the book on his presidency, with a farewell speech in Chicago that will try to lift supporters shaken by Donald Trump's shock election.

(JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama is joined onstage by first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, after his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd as he arrives to deliver his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/John Gress)

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Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.

If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history...if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran's nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11...if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

But that's what we did. That's what you did. You were the change. You answered people's hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next. I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it's up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.

We have what we need to do so. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours.

But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

That's what I want to focus on tonight – the state of our democracy.

Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened to rupture that solidarity. The beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism – these forces haven't just tested our security and prosperity, but our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future.

Our democracy won't work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. Today, the economy is growing again; wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are rising again; poverty is falling again. The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a ten-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in fifty years. And if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we've made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.

That, after all, is why we serve – to make people's lives better, not worse.

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Barack Obama through the years
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Barack Obama through the years
Barack Obama, candidate for a Senate seat in Illinois and one of the keynote speakers of the 2004 Democratic National Convention, addresses delegates during the second night of the event at the FleetCenter in Boston, July 27, 2004. More than 4,000 delegates to the convention will nominate John Kerry on Wednesday to challenge President George W. Bush in a November battle for the White House that is essentially a dead heat. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn US ELECTION HB/
Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Barack Obama (2nd R), wife Michelle and their daughters Malia (R), 3, and Sasha (L), 6, spend time in their Chicago hotel room, November 2, 2004. Obama faces Republican candidate Alan Keys in the first Senate race with two African American candidates. REUTERS/John Gress JG
Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) (L), Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (2nd L), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) (R) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (2nd R) listen as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington November 17, 2005. Obama said that Americans are looking for leadership and can do better than what they have gotten from Washington in 2004. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) (R) and Barack Obama (D-IL) hold a news conference on a vote raising the federal minimum wage on Capitol Hill in Washington February 1, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) smiles beside Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) at a rally at American University in Washington January 28, 2008. Kennedy, a Democratic icon and a leading liberal voice, endorsed Obama on Monday for the party's presidential nomination and called the young lawmaker an inspirational uniter. REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), greets entertainer and talk show host Oprah Winfrey at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, December 8, 2007. Iowa holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses for the 2008 presidential election on January 3. REUTERS/Ramin Rahimian (UNITED STATES)
US Democratic presidential candidates Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) talk during a Martin Luther King Day rally at the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina January 21, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) (C) reacts as he holds a baby at a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, January 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) (L) points to the crowd as Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) looks on after his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Democratic presidential nominee U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) embraces his wife Michelle after giving his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado August 28, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with well-wishers at Hradcanske Square in central Prague April 5, 2009. As long as a potential nuclear threat persists from Iran, the United States will continue pushing plans for missile defense, U.S. President Barak Obama said on Sunday. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger (CZECH REPUBLIC POLITICS)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (C) meets U.S. Senators Richard G. Luger of Indiana (R) and Barrack Obama of Ilinois (L) for talks at the Prime Minister's official residence in Downing Street in London, September 1, 2005. REUTERS/ Alessandro Abbonizo/ Pool TM/JV
U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, December 22, 2010. From L-R are (standing): Vice President Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, former U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, former USMC StaffSgt. Eric Alva, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa), Rep. Susan Davis (D-Ca), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) enjoys a beer with Dakota Meyer on the patio outside of the White House Oval Office, in this handout photograph taken on September 14, 2011 and released on September 15. The president on Thursday will present Meyer with the Medal of Honor for courageous actions taken while serving as a then U.S. Marine Corps Corporal, part of a Marine embedded training team in Afghanistan on September 8, 2009, the White House statement said. REUTERS/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance while the band Earth, Wind and Fire performs at the Governors Ball in the State Dining Room of the White House, in this handout photograph taken on February 22, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES POLITICS) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama, along with Cabinet Secretaries and Members of Congress, watch a shot during a basketball game on the White House court in this handout photo taken in Washington on October 8, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama eats a nectarine following a town hall meeting at Kroger's Supermarket in this handout photo taken in Bristol, Virginia. on July 29, 2009 and later released by the White House. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout
U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a briefing on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, while aboard Air Force One en route to New Orleans, Louisiana, in this White House handout photo taken on May 2, 2010 and released on June 7, 2010. Picture taken May 2, 2010. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENVIRONMENT ENERGY DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughter Sasha swim at Alligator Point in Panama City Beach, Florida, August 14, 2010. Declaring Gulf Coast beaches "open for business," Obama visited Florida on Saturday and pledged to restore the economy and the environment of the region damaged by the BP Plc oil spill. Obama, on his fifth visit to the region since BP's deep-sea well in the Gulf of Mexico ruptured on April 20, held talks with local business owners to hear their concerns about the impact of the world's worst offshore oil spill. REUTERS/Pete Souza-The White House/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY ENVIRONMENT DISASTER IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Also pictured are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2nd R) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates (R). In the decade since the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, U.S. Special Operations Command personnel numbers have doubled, its budget tripled and deployments quadrupled. The Bin Laden takedown is simply the tip of an iceberg of fast-growing, largely hidden action by the United States and its allies. Those with knowledge of such operations say this changing state of warfare could spark a range of unintended consequences, from jeopardizing diplomatic relationships to unwanted, wider wars. Please note: A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured at source. Picture taken May 1, 2011. To match Analysis CONFLICT/COVERTOPS REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
U.S. President Barack Obama shoots clay targets with a shotgun on the range at Camp David, Maryland, in this White House handout photo taken August 4, 2012. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L to R) , U.S. President Barack Obama, and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel watch the overtime shootout of the Chelsea vs. Bayern Munich Champions League final in the Laurel Cabin conference room during the G8 Summit at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012. REUTERS/White House/ Pete Souza/POOL (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SPORT SOCCER)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 23: U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act during a ceremony with fellow Democrats in the East Room of the White House March 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. The historic bill was passed by the House of Representatives Sunday after a 14-month-long political battle that left the legislation without a single Republican vote. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughters Malia (L) and Sasha, watch on television as first lady Michelle Obama takes the stage to deliver her speech at the Democratic National Convention, in the Treaty Room of the White House in Washington September 4, 2012. REUTERS/White House/Pete Souza/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
U.S. President Barack Obama walks onstage with daughter Sasha (2R), First lady Michelle Obama (2L) and daughter Malia (L) before giving his election night victory speech in Chicago, November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION)
U.S. President Barack Obama talks to the media as he signs into law S. 337: FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328: Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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But for all the real progress we've made, we know it's not enough. Our economy doesn't work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles. While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind – the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills – convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful – a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

There are no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree that our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocation won't come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don't avoid their obligations to the country that's made their success possible. We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can't be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don't create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

There's a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For 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 ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

But we're not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking 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. 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 workforce. And our economy doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system. That's what our Constitution and highest ideals require. But laws alone won't be enough. Hearts must change. If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he's got all the advantages, but who's seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn't suddenly vanish in the '60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they're not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they're not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles. America wasn't weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation's creed, and it was strengthened.

So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

None of this is easy. For too many of us, it's become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that's out there.

This trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we'll prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we'll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.

Isn't that part of what makes politics so dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we're cutting taxes for corporations? How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It's not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it's self-defeating. Because as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we've halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won't have time to debate the existence of climate change; they'll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.

Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

It's that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

It's that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.

That order is now being challenged – first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what's true and what's right.

Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement, and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We've taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden. The global coalition we're leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe. To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.

But protecting our way of life requires more than our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That's why, for the past eight years, I've worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That's why we've ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That's why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans. That's why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women's rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

So let's be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.

Which brings me to my final point – our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote. When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.

And all of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it's really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but "from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken...to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;" that we should preserve it with "jealous anxiety;" that we should reject "the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties" that make us one.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we've been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.

Ultimately, that's what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there's an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, 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. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you'll win. Sometimes you'll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.

Mine sure has been. Over the course of these eight years, I've seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I've mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in Charleston church. I've seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch, and our wounded warriors walk again. I've seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I've seen the youngest of children remind us of our obligations to care for refugees, to work in peace, and above all to look out for each other.

That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change – that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn't possibly have imagined. I hope yours has, too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home were there with us in 2004, in 2008, in 2012 – and maybe you still can't believe we pulled this whole thing off.

You're not the only ones. Michelle – for the past twenty-five years, you've been not only my wife and mother of my children, but my best friend. You took on a role you didn't ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humor. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You've made me proud. You've made the country proud.

Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion. You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I've done in my life, I'm most proud to be your dad.

37 PHOTOS
Malia and Sasha Obama through the years
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Malia and Sasha Obama through the years

Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Barack Obama (2nd R), wife Michelle and their daughters Malia (R), 3, and Sasha (L), 6, spend time in their Chicago hotel room, November 2, 2004. Obama faces Republican candidate Alan Keys in the first Senate race with two African American candidates.

(REUTERS/John Gress)

Michelle Obama and her daughters Sasha and Malia (R) listen as her husband Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks during a campaign stop in Oskaloosa, Iowa, July 4, 2007. REUTERS/Keith Bedford (UNITED STATES)
Sasha Obama walks from Jorge's Sombrero restaurant after a meal with her father U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and her sister Malia and mother Michelle in Pueblo, Colorado November 1, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is cheered by supporters after winning the Democratic Iowa caucuses in Des Moines, Iowa January 3, 2008. Obama is seen with his wife Michelle and daughters Malia (L) and Sasha.

(REUTERS/Jim Young/UNITED STATES)

'U.S. first lady Michelle Obama laughs while her daughter Malia reads a book to patients at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington. Also is Obama's other daughter Sasha.

(Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

U..S President Barack Obama's daughters Malia and Sasha Obama watch the inaugural parade from their father's reviewing stand in Washington January 20, 2009. Barack Obama became the first black U.S. president on Tuesday and declared it is time to set aside petty differences and embark on a new era of responsibility to repair the country and its image abroad.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/UNITED STATES)

Sasha Obama, the youngest daughter of U.S. President Barack Obama, smiles as she looks at her sister Malia as they wait to collect takeout lunch at Nancy's restaurant in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, August 26, 2009.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed/UNITED STATES POLITICS)

U.S. President Barack Obama's daughters Malia (L) and Sasha play with the first family's dog Bo as they wait for Obama's return to Washington after a day trip to Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he participated in economic rallies, September 15, 2009.

(REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

President Barack Obama speaks onstage as Michelle Obama, Sasha Obama and Malia Obama look on during TNT's 'Christmas in Washington 2010' at the National Building Museum on December 12, 2010 in Washington, DC.

(Theo Wargo via Getty Images)

Malia Obama and Sasha Obama attend the first White House Dance Series with their mother, First Lady Michelle Obama, in the East Room of the White House September 7, 2010 in Washington, DC. The dance event was a tribute to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Judith Jamison, a famous modern dancer, choreographer and muse to Alvin Ailey.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama enjoys a "shaved ice" with his daughter Malia at Island Snow Hawaii while on vacation in Kailua January1, 2010.

(REUTERS/Hugh Gentry)

U.S. President Barack Obama walks with his daughter, Sasha, as they look at the White-Handed Gibbon at the Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii January 3, 2010.

(REUTERS/Larry Downing)

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, sit for a family portrait in the Oval Office, Dec. 11, 2011.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

(Photo by Pete Souza/White House/Handout/Corbis via Getty Images)

11/23/12- The White House- Washington, DC

First Lady Michelle Obama, first daughters Malia and Sasha and first dog Bo receive the 2012 Christmas Tree.

(Photo by ImageCatcher News Service/Corbis via Getty Images)

11/21/12- The White House- Washington, DC

President Barack Obama and his daughters Malia and Sasha.

(Photo by ImageCatcher News Service/Corbis via Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama celebrates with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia (R) and Sasha at their election night victory rally in Chicago, November 7, 2012.

(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Sasha (L) and Malia Obama, daughters of US President Barack Obama, take a photo of themselves during the Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.

(JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama speaks to a cashier as he pays for books with daughter Malia at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington on November 30, 2013 as part of Small Business Saturday.

(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama walks from Marine One with his daughter Sasha as they return to the White House in Washington January 5, 2014. Obama and his daughters were returning from a two week holiday vacation.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Malia Obama and Sasha Obama speak onstage at TNT Christmas in Washington 2014 at the National Building Museum on December 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)

U.S. President Barack Obama's daughters Sasha (L) and Malia listen to their father during the pardoning of the National Thanksgiving Turkey "Cheese" at the White House in Washington November 26, 2014.

(REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Sasha Obama, daughter of U.S. President Barack Obama, participates in the turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. In a tradition dating back to 1947, the president pardons a turkey, sparing the tom -- and his alternate -- from becoming a Thanksgiving Day feast. This year, Americans were asked to choose which of two turkeys would be pardoned and to cast their votes on Twitter.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Malia Obama (R) and Sasha Obama after arrival at Malpensa Airport in Milan, on June 17, 2015.

(Photo by Andrea Spinelli/Corbis via Getty Images)

Malia Obama, daughter of U.S. President Barack Obama, participates in the turkey pardoning ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. In a tradition dating back to 1947, the president pardons a turkey, sparing the tom -- and his alternate -- from becoming a Thanksgiving Day feast. This year, Americans were asked to choose which of two turkeys would be pardoned and to cast their votes on Twitter.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Malia and Sasha Obama attend the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Ellipse south of the White House December 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. The lighting of the tree is an annual tradition attended by the president and the first family.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery- Pool/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama and daughter Malia make their way to board Air Force One before departing from Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on April 8, 2016. Obama is heading to San Francisco to take part in a Democratic National Committee roundtable discussion and to attend a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser.

(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (R) walk to Air Force One as they depart from Roswell, New Mexico, U.S., June 17, 2016.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

U.S. President Barack Obama and his daughter Malia walk from Marine One to board Air Force One upon their departure from O'Hare Airport in Chicago April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Barack Obama and First lady Michelle Obama's youngest daughter Sasha (C) picks up her food at the Z-burger chain during the "I'm with Hillary" promotion in Washington, U.S., October 28, 2016. Customers using the password received a free hamburger today. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Sasha (L) and Malia Obama, the daughters of U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama walk to Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Malia Obama attends the 2016 Budweiser Made in America Festival at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 4, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch)

HAVANA, CUBA - MARCH 22: (L-R) Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama react to the first run scored during an exhibition game between the Cuban national baseball team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the Estado Latinoamericano March 22, 2016 in Havana, Cuba. This is the first time a sitting president has visited Cuba in 88 years.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Malia Obama (L) and Princess Lalla Meryem of Morocco attend an Iftar dinner at the royal palace in Marrakech, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

Sasha Obama, daughter of U.S. President Barack Obama, attends her first State Dinner in honor of the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau at the White House in Washington March 10, 2016.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Malia Obama attends a State Dinner at the White House March 10, 2016 in Washington, D.C. Hosted by President and First Lady Obama, the dinner is in honor of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and First Lady Sophie Gregoire Trudeau of Canada.

(Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia (R) and Sasha (L) board Air Force One at Cape Cod Coast Guard Air Station in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, U.S., August 21, 2016.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

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To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware's favorite son: you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.

To my remarkable staff: For eight years – and for some of you, a whole lot more – I've drawn from your energy, and tried to reflect back what you displayed every day: heart, and character, and idealism. I've watched you grow up, get married, have kids, and start incredible new journeys of your own. Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. The only thing that makes me prouder than all the good we've done is the thought of all the remarkable things you'll achieve from here.

And to all of you out there – every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town and kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change – you are the best supporters and organizers anyone could hope for, and I will forever be grateful. Because yes, you changed the world.

That's why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans – especially so many young people out there – to believe you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves. This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I've seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America's hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You'll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won't stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain. For now, whether you're young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

Yes We Can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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