US President Barack Obama has delivered his last State of the Union address, trying to sell optimism to a frustrated nation and warning Americans not to pick Donald Trump as his successor.
“As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background,” Obama said Tuesday night in what appeared to be a reference to Trump’s divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail.
“We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world,” he continued.
Obama’s speech came as he still has one full year in the White House, but he appeared to be wondering what his successor would do to the nation.
Earlier in his speech, Obama said that one of the “regrets” of his presidency was that while he ran for office on a platform of unity and change, American politics had become more polarized and divisive during his tenure.
“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better,” Obama said. “There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”
However, the president sought to paint a hopeful portrait of America with a recovering economy and better standing in the world, while trying to contrast the Republicans’ grim assessment of the state of the nation with his own optimism.
“America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights,” Obama said.
Laying out his vision for America’s future, Obama said economic opportunity, security and peace were within reach, but “will only happen if we fix our politics.”
GOP ‘told us to fear the future’
“Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control,” he added.
Without naming any Republican presidential candidate, Obama seemed to single out Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, saying Americans should reject calls to stigmatize Muslims because of the threat posed by the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group.
Insulting Muslims ‘betrays who we are’
“When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country,” the president argued.
“Our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage,” he said in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate who has called for carpet-bombing ISIL in Syria.
Obama defended his approach toward Daesh, describing the extremist group as a threat to the United States, but not an existential one as suggested by some Republicans.
“We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions,” Obama stated.
Obama also said that the United States should use its standing in the world to solve global problems at a time of rising tensions in places like the Middle East, Ukraine, China and North Korea.