President Obama gave his final State of the Union address before Congress on Tuesday night as his second term winds down and Americans prepare to elect a new leader who can carry forward a vision for the country and inspire others to face growing challenges on the horizon.
Obama spoke about America’s great strengths including optimism, work ethic, spirit of discovery, diversity, and commitment to rule of law, saying these things ensure prosperity and security for generations to come and have led America out of the worst economic crisis in generations.
Reforming the health care sector, reinventing America’s energy sector, supporting military veterans, and ensuring marriage equality were some examples Obama cited that highlights the progress he helped to usher in during the past 7 years of his presidency in the White House.
Obama made some subtle points that appeared to be directed at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump when he spoke about the importance of not becoming a divided country, turning inward, and against each other.
Following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks in late 2015, Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States and previously supported establishing a database for all Muslims living in the United States.
Obama explained in his speech, “And that’s why we need to reject any politics– any politics that targets people because of race or religion.”
Obama said it isn’t a matter of political correctness, it is a matter of understanding about what makes America strong.
“The world respects us not just for our arsenal, it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith” Obama said.
Calling America the “strongest” and “most durable economy in the world,” he acknowledged that America has added more than 14 million new jobs, marking the strongest two years of job growth since the 1990s with an unemployment rate that has been cut in half, and an auto industry that just had its best year ever.
“Anyone claiming that America is in decline is peddling fiction” he said.
Addressing future challenges that Americans face, Obama spoke about income inequality, technology eliminating the need for many jobs, and companies that can locate anywhere while facing tougher competition.
“As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top” Obama explained.
Concerning Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: Obama said the U.S. has led a coalition of 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.
“We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria” he said.
Obama emphasized that if Congress is serious about winning the war and wants to send a strong message to U.S. troops and the world, then it should authorize the use of military force against ISIL, and take a vote.
However, he later admitted that the U.S. can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.
Towards the end of the address, Obama said that democracy breaks down when the average person doesn’t feel heard or the system is in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.
“Too many Americans feel that way right now,” Obama admitted.
Obama said regrettably that the rancor and suspicion between the two parties in Washington D.C. has worsened and he would try to bridge the divide while he is still president.
Changing the political system to reflect our better selves was another theme that Obama touched on near the end of his address.
Obama spoke about the importance of full participation in democracy to reflect our better selves.
“But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a president. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves” Obama said.