“No, no, no,” President Barack Obama said tonight in his farewell address to the nation when he mentioned “the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next” and a chorus of boos erupted in Chicago’s McCormick Place. “I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me,” he added to big applause from the crowd of more than 18,000.
There was a lot of talk about political division, threats to American democracy, race relations, “fear of change” and autocratic rule, “selective sorting of the facts,” social media, the climate change debate, “discrimination against Muslim Americans,” respecting immigrants, “arguing with strangers on the Internet,” and realizing there are “no quick fixes,” but the former Celebrity Apprentice host was only mentioned once in name by his soon-to-be predecessor.
The atmosphere that enveloped the 2016 race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was certainly on Obama’s mind during the nearly one-hour remarks. “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,” he told supporters. “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.”
Covered live by all the networks and cable news, Obama was speaking in front of a crowd in his adopted hometown of Chicago. Stepping onstage to a tune by U2 and thunderous applause, Obama started with, “It’s good to be home.” With the audience not letting him start due to roars, he added “you can tell I’m a lame duck because no one’s following instructions.”
The farewell address has become a tradition followed by many President since George Washington and reinvigorated for the modern age by Dwight E. Eisenhower’s striking “military industrial complex” remarks in 1961. However, unlike tonight, most of the recent POTUS goodbyes were delivered from the Oval Office and not a commander-in-chief in a rally atmosphere. Not avoiding what he hopes to be his legacy, Obama’s wide-ranging and often-interrupted speech tonight also touched on the administration’s record of healthcare reform, wealth inequity, marriage equality, the killing of Osama bin Laden and recovery from the 2008 recession. There were also the expected big shout-outs to the First Lady, the First Daughters and Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden, most of whom were in attendance.
In what is a more recent tradition, the address this year caused the Big 4 to shift around their Tuesday schedules to carry the speech with the winter break return of NBC’s This Is Us, as one example, pushed to 10 PM. Also, CBS placed the Season 9 finale episode of The Big Bang Theory in place of Bull after Obama’s speech.
Before Obama spoke on Tuesday, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder performed onstage at McCormick Place with the 24-member Voice of Chicago ensemble, a part of the Chicago Children’s Choir. Singer-songwriter BJ the Chicago Kid sang the National Anthem tonight right before the president’s speech.
The 44th POTUS’ bye-bye comes the same day as sometimes-contentious confirmation hearings for nominees for the 45th POTUS’ cabinet kicked off in D.C., with some going into the evening.
The speech from the Windy City also comes on the same day that CNN added a new dimension to the ongoing political hacking scandal by claiming Trump and Obama were both recently shown evidence by intelligence chiefs that “Russian operatives” are said to have “compromising personal and financial information about the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host. The Jeff Zucker-run newser also says that the documentation alleges that there were ongoing communications “during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”
Just before Obama’s speech, Trump wasted little time responding to the reports
FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
“My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you,” Obama said near the end of his speech. “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.”