Watch all 23 times Obama spoke about our democracy in his farewell address


President Obama delivered his farewell address Tuesday night, a sad occasion which was imbued with a notably consistent theme: Faith in a democracy which appears to have failed us.

President Barack Obama leaves office with a historic approval rating and a long list of important accomplishments, and while his farewell address Tuesday night recounted some of the notable progress of the past eight years and maintained a still-hopeful outlook, it was also suffused with a clear theme:

In reality, the President used the word "democracy" twenty-three times in his speech. What is more remarkable, though, is the context of those mentions:

...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. [edit] ...The work of democracy has always been hard.  It’s always been contentious.  Sometimes it’s been bloody. [edit] ...In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy. [edit]

...But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works.  Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people.  (Applause.)  [edit] ...that we so badly need right now. And that's what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy.  Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders argued.  They quarreled.  Eventually they compromised.  They 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’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one. [edit]

...These forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing 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. To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. [edit]

...There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself.  After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America.  And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. [edit] ...But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction — Atticus Finch (applause) — 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.” [edit]

...And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy.  But politics is a battle of ideas.  That’s how our democracy was designed.  In the course of a healthy debate, we 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 might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter (applause), then we're going to keep talking past each other, and we'll make common ground and compromise impossible. [edit]

...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 and open democracies and 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. [edit] ...Protecting our way of life, that's not just the job of our military.  Democracy can buckle when it gives in to fear. [edit]

...That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights. [edit] ...Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.  (Applause.)  [edit] ...It falls to each of us to be those 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, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy:  Citizen.  (Applause.)  Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands.  It needs you. [edit]

...Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.  You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America.  (Applause.)  You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark; that it's not something to fear but something to embrace.  You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.  You’ll soon outnumber all of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.

In a nation rocked by an election in which the overwhelming winner of the popular vote was cast aside in favor of an electoral college victor who clearly had a hostile foreign government committing crimes in service to his victory, a nation that is now grappling with even more stunning revelations, it is sadly unsurprising that President Obama felt compelled to deliver what amounts to a sales pitch for faith in American democracy.

Millions more people voted for Hillary Clinton despite the criminal interference of the Russian government, the possible collusion of Trump associates, and the completely improper intrusion of FBI Director James Comey, yet we are now in the process of confirming a slate of destructive cabinet nominees, and are at the precipice of inaugurating a man who is manifestly unqualified and unsuited for the presidency.

If there is anything encouraging to be found in all of this, it is that the failures that led us to this point were not the failures of the democracy that the President described, but of undemocratic forces within it. That is why we must continue to fight.