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Island can learn from Obama’s words

Democracy warning: Bermuda would do well to heed President Barack Obama’s words from his farewell speech (Photograph by Nam Y. Huh/AP)

The eloquence of US President Barack Obama continued to flow in his “farewell speech” on Tuesday in Chicago. While it was aimed at his fellow Americans, its message contained a universal theme, applicable to global citizens.

He reminded the audience that he took office in the midst of one of the most challenging economic periods of the century and went on to defend the achievements that have occurred during his tenure. He was clear in redirecting the crowd in Chicago away from the temptation to “boo” Donald Trump and implied instead that they use their energy towards the vital task of moving their country forward.

I believe that those of us in Bermuda — from every background — could be inspired into working together towards a better Bermuda and a better world, if we carefully consider Obama’s words. He noted that the process of ensuring basic freedom in any situation was a long journey for which all people are called to ensure good governance. The President pointed out that “democracy is threatened when it’s taken for granted” and that it requires continued renewal.

Obama offered evidence in the US that he considers to be threats to democracy; some of which resonates with our own circumstances. He cited attempts to promote the alienation of various sectors of society away from the rest. He pointed out that their current political dialogue had become so corrosive that the average person was “turned off” from becoming involved.

The President made the point that diverse societies only thrive when there is respect in consideration of each other. He encouraged his audience to use their imaginations to “wear the shoes” of others, so that each sector could better appreciate another’s journey. This sounds like an endorsement for the new project in Bermuda on Truth and Reconciliation recently announced by Curb.

Obama encouraged listeners to address these challenging times with the knowledge that people in a democracy — all the people — are the source of any power. He noted that we can all play some part in safeguarding freedom; to peacefully protest, enjoy free press and operate under the rule of law.

The President called for directly challenging corrupting influences within government, enhancing transparency and building trust. He noted that voters could address any dysfunction within assemblies of elected representatives (Parliament) and push leaders towards applying common sense rather than narrow partisanship. He went on to warn us to avoid the “blame game” without getting involved. Obama pointed out that a healthy democracy needs all of us. He noted that it’s inevitable that at times we will differ with each other, and reminded us that it’s not a zero-sum game. As long as we are vigilant about slipping into polarisation and look to maintain connections throughout our community, we sustain a thriving society.

In that regard, Obama suggested that we move beyond our comfortable “bubbles” and avoid the stagnation found if we remain in our cliques. He challenged us to rise above our own narrow interests and promote the wellbeing of the whole of society.

In closing this farewell speech, Obama reminded us that the most important office in any society is that of “Citizen”.

He concluded with a thank you to all, as well as an especially moving tribute to his wife Michelle and his daughters; Malia and Sasha, as well as “brother” Joe Biden.

In a tear-filled epilogue, Obama demonstrated to the world the priority he gives to his role as a loving husband and father when he said — “of all I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your Dad”.