Tonight is Obama’s farewell address. If his is received like his predecessors, few of us will listen. It may, however, be the last sensible address given by a sitting president until late January 2021 when we will (hopefully) come to our senses and inaugurate the 46th president. Unlike those missed celestial events that seem to always present themselves in the middle of the night, Obama’s will be available in real time and anytime thereafter to listen to, and re-listen to. I recommend it.
Presidents often give their most compelling notes of wisdom in these addresses. For the first time in their presidency they are allowed to tell us what they have learned and, moreover, what we should lock in our minds to avoid in the future, without immediate political consequences. George Washington established this tradition when he cautioned us about partisanship. It certainly was a warning we should have heeded. He wrote that hyper-partisanship,
serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion.
More recently, President Eisenhower warned us of an emerging “military industrial complex.” We should have listened to both. (See a compilation here, http://www.npr.org/2017/01/10/509052320/obamas-farewell-address-how-presidents-use-this-moment-of-reflection.)
The United States will survive Trump. Power will be abused, mistakes will be made, people will suffer, but America will emerge battered but largely intact, and so will you. But not if we don’t listen to the wisdom of those who came before us, and not if we don’t stand up, speak up, and act responsibly. Our future is in our hands, not Trump’s. Focus on the difference you can make. First locally—home and community—then with a wider lens. Do not bully or be bullied. Engage with a calm sense of profound resilience. It is your life and your country. Own it.