This piece originally appeared on NBCNews.com.
Class was in session. In his farewell address to the nation President Obama was the consummate professor — reviewing what the basis of our Democracy is and what we have accomplished in the span of 240 years, while reminding us that change is painful, slow, and even sometimes regressive.
The history lesson was interesting. But it just wasn’t wonkiness for wonkiness sake. President Obama’s deliberate review of the bones of our democratic system and our genesis as a country provided a big picture. And this broad overview was targeted to a very specific group of Americans – all of the ones that voted against President Elect Donald Trump.
President Obama’s take home message was “it’s going to be OK”—our political system can be shaken but its foundations are strong.
For the first several minutes of President Obama’s speech we were planted into a seat of American History 101. He reminded us that the birth of our country is the triumph of a republic over a tyranny and the drive to achieve a more perfect union. At the same time the President highlighted that our democracy does not guarantee uniformity and that while it can take two steps forward it also takes steps back.
From Introduction to American History the President then switched to his syllabus for Race and Ethnic Politics 101. This was a powerful moment.
President Obama reminded us that race “remains a potent and divisive issue” and that while things have gotten better we are not where we need to be. He also challenged head on the resurgent notion that the economy is a racial zero-sum game — in other words, that minorities can only do better at the expense of whites.
“After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard-working 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,” said Obama.
It was a thinly veiled challenge to president-elect Trump, who promoted “birther” claims about Obama’s citizenship and who started his presidential campaign by trashing Mexico and Mexican immigrants.
As part of the President’s discussion about how a rising tide lifts all boats we saw him weave in another history lesson-that of the role of Immigrants in our nation. The President reminded us that all of the negative things that are being said today about immigrants are far from new. The same things we hear today about immigrants were said about the Irish, Immigrants, Poles, etc.
“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,” said Obama.
The president also delved into a bit of world history and international relations. Here he made a pointed call against isolationism. The President reminded us that freedoms at home are directly linked to freedoms abroad.
And as any good professor, the President left off with a homework assignment. He called on the nation to rebuild and strengthen our democratic institutions – make it easier to vote, insist on transparency and ethics, and draw congressional districts that don’t cater to the extremes. The President then ended with a very direct call that if something needs fixing in our system to do something about it. Whether that something is running for office, canvassing, organizing, or whatever it takes to preserve the gift of American democracy bestowed upon us.