During his farewell address President Obama tackled many different issues, from the importance of our democratic institutions and the lingering effects of racism. But he also took a few moments to briefly address the economic, environmental and technical challenges facing Americans of all stripes.
For all the rancor over globalization and "free" trade, Obama argued that it was the "relentless pace of automation" that were the primary challenge facing the middle class and low-skill laborers. Trade deals became something of an unexpected issue during the campaign season, with both President-elect Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders lambasting their negative impact on the economy. In his parting words as President though, Obama sought to change the conversation somewhat, by pointing to our technological progress that has made "many good, middle-class jobs obsolete."
While he didn't call out any particular politicians by name, he made it clear that he believed protectionist trade policies and tariffs were not the solution. Instead he believes that the changing economy and job market requires "a new social compact."
He also addressed the continuing polarization and stratification of our country, arguing that "it's become safer to retreat into our own bubbles... and never challenge our assumptions." Of course these bubbles can be neighborhoods or campuses or churches, but as he also points out the problem has grown with the rise of social media and a news "channel for every taste." He also urged Americans to engage more with each other, not just online but face to face, saying, "If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life." Then he turned his eye to the relentless spread of fake news and naked propaganda, saying:
"Without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we'll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible."
That became the jumping off point, of course, for talking about climate change. President Obama took on deniers of climate science saying, "reality has a way of catching up with you." He defended his administration's record on renewable energy and its work in reaching international agreements to limit greenhouse emissions. But also said it was not enough, that unless more was done to rein in our reliance on fossil fuels, "our children won't have time to debate the existence of climate change; they'll be busy dealing with its effects."
You can watch the president's full remarks above, or read a complete transcript here.