Putting aside a sudden crisis with Iran, President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged Americans in his final State of the Union address to reject the politics of tribalism and fear that have rocked the campaign to find his successor and to build a “clear-eyed, big-hearted” and “optimistic” nation.
Delivering his annual report to the nation, Obama did not name Republican 2016 candidates. But he took clear, implied shots at them nevertheless, particularly front-runner Donald Trump, as well as Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. America’s destiny, the President said, was imperiled by a political system festering in malice, gridlock and in the grip of the rich and the powerful.
Obama also took on critics who accuse him of weakening American power abroad and Republicans who say he is underplaying the threat from radical Islamist groups such as ISIS. He mocked the contention that fighters on “on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages” represented an existential threat to America.
The President acknowledged that a torrent of change, technological advances and economic dislocation has left many Americans fearful of the future and anxious as social structures that have underpinned the life of the nation for decades fray. But he urged them not to fall prey to the periodic temptation that has emerged throughout history to alienate minorities and resist social change.
“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,” Obama said. “And each time, we overcame those fears.”
“We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people. And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.”
Economic opportunity, security and a sustainable, peaceful planet are possible, he said, if the country could return to “rational, constructive debates.”
“It will only happen if we fix our politics,” he said.