President Barack Obama delivered a conciliatory speech Wednesday afternoon aimed at bridging the divides that have widened in this country after a remarkably contentious election.
Obama opened the speech on an optimistic note.
“The sun is up,” he said. “And I know everybody had a long night. I did as well.”
At different points in the speech, the president extolled the virtues of participating in democratic government and warned people against cynicism.
“To the young people, you have to stay encouraged,” he said. “Don’t get cynical.”
Obama also discussed his coming first meeting with president-elect Donald Trump, who beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
“I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House tomorrow to talk about making sure there is a successful transition between our presidencies,” Obama said. “It is not secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember, eight years ago, President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences.”
Obama then praised President George W. Bush’s team for their professionalism, and encouraged Trump to follow that same model.
The president then pivoted to Clinton.
“I could not be prouder of her,” he said. “She has lived an extraordinary life of public service.”
Obama continued: “A lot of Americans look up to her. Her candidacy and nomination was historic and sends a message to our daughters across the country that she can achieve at the highest levels of politics.”
Trump’s victory over Clinton was a shock to the country. Polls had consistently showed the Democratic nominee ahead of her controversial Republican counterpart throughout the general election, and although the race tightened in the final weeks, the conventional wisdom maintained that she had very good odds of winning.
But low voter turnout on the Democratic side and Trump’s populist message resonating with rural voters tipped the scale in Trump’s favour.
Obama ended his speech on a gracious note.
“The point, though, is that we all go forward with the presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens,” he said, adding, “That’s how this country has moved forward for 240 years.”
Obama also employed some sports metaphors to illustrate his point that Americans are all on the same team.
“I’ve said before: I think of this job as being a relay run,” the president said. “You take the baton and you run your best race and hopefully by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead. You’ve made a little progress. And I can say we’ve done that.”
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