In George Washington’s 1796 farewell address, he argued that of “all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” In Barack Obama’s farewell address, he congratulated himself for undermining them.
He identified America’s progress in the diminution of its historic religion and morality and urged Americans to embrace greater and greater departures from them. The country’s future, he said, depends upon welcoming Islam and the transgendered, among other favored groups, and eschewing “discrimination,” his catch-all term for any lingering conservatism in the country.
At one point, he even tried to turn George Washington into a fellow progressive, ignoring the aforementioned quote for a dubious paraphrase designed to make Washington sound like a diversity-conscious liberal: “In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but ‘from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken… to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth’; that we should preserve it with ‘jealous anxiety’; that we should reject ‘the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties’ that make us one.”
Actually, Washington argued in his farewell address that self-government is dangerous if disconnected from conservative principles. He feared the intoxicated modern smugness that the spirit of the budding Enlightenment threatened to unleash on the country. He warned that the abandonment of religion and morality, in the name of a self-sufficient humanism, would lead to a vicious and decadent citizenry and tyrannical government. Disorder would replace order, with whoever is in power preying upon those without power.
His worst fears have been realized in Obama’s “fundamentally transformed” America, where judges, bureaucrats, and pols liberated from the constraints of religion and morality invent bogus rights that collide with God-given ones, starting with the right to life of unborn children.
The liberalism that Obama espouses is essentially an attempt to construct a society without religion and morality, one that is based not on traditional wisdom but upon the “enlightenment” of whoever is in power. Washington smelled a rat in the “refined” conceits of the Enlightenment. He asked in his farewell address — “[W]here is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?” — and rejected the idea “that morality can be maintained without religion.” He correctly predicted that “national morality” would suffer “in exclusion of religious principle.”
Barack Obama gave his farewell address not in George Washington’s capital, but in the friendlier confines of Saul Alinsky’s Chicago, though the noise of a protester marred the start of his speech. He described his accomplishments as “two steps forward one step back,” but the title of Lenin’s pamphlet, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” would have been more apt. To the end, he was the Bolshie community organizer, peppering his speech with repeated calls to hit the streets and “organize.”
He spoke of “change” as the glory of America, but the theme of hope got shorter shrift. At times he sounded a bit hopeless, saying bleakly, “After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.” But his spirit revived when he contemplated that today’s minorities might be tomorrow’s majorities.
The implicit treatment of Trump in the speech was passive-aggressive, at once conceding his points and caricaturing them. At one moment, Obama was acknowledging the need for “fair trade”; in the next, he was dismissing it as irrelevant. He worked in a few references to the white working class but quickly followed them up with a demagogic spin on Trumpism: “After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce.”
The speech was a jumble of platitudes and self-serving tips on how to run a democracy (get out of your “bubble,” talk to people with whom you disagree, and so on), ostensibly directed to all Americans but really only intended for Trump and conservatives. The crowd roared when he said that “reason and science matter,” as if he had delivered a devastating riposte to the right. He talked about “facts” and “information” as the hallmarks of sane politics as if liberalism enjoys ownership over them, and “decency” of course was equated with support for “marriage equality,” a phrase that would have puzzled George Washington.
To the extent that the speech descended into specifics, it ignored America’s most pressing problems while manufacturing and obsessing over imaginary ones, with climate change topping the list. “In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet,” he said. The Greek columns were gone from behind him, but he still sees himself as a demigod who can control the oceans. He continued, “But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.”
There was a lot of strutting and fist-pumping, but all of it couldn’t conceal that Obama leaves his party in ruins. It was a farewell address as hollow and delusional as his presidency.