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Obama uses slavery speech to strike back at Trump

<p>Americans betray their past and their ideals if they fail to “push back against bigotry in all its forms,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday in a veiled but forceful rebuttal to Donald Trump.</p><p>Obama’s speech on Capitol Hill was officially a commemoration of the constitutional amendment that ended slavery. But his contemporary message was unmistakable in the context of the explosive national debate over discrimination prompted by Trump’s call to block Muslims from entering the United States.</p><p>“Remember that our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others, regardless of what they look like or where they come from or what their last name is,” Obama said, adding, a little slower and a little more emphatically, “or what faith they practice.”</p><p>Obama didn’t mention the Republican presidential candidate, or refugees, or any specific event that happened after the mid-20th century. But the target of his comments was clear, and the audience agreed, with Democrats giving him a lengthy standing ovation. </p><p>&quot;I’m not going to wave you off consideration of the idea that that message stands in quite stark contrast to the rhetoric that we hear from a variety of Republican candidates for president,&quot; said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. &quot;So I think it’s appropriate for you to notice the difference in those messages, but I would contest the notion that this is something that the president newly inserted into his remarks to respond to one individual.&quot; </p><p>Obama quoted <a href=”http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/congress.htm” target=”_blank”>President Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 address</a> to Congress, in which Lincoln made the case that giving freedom to the slave assured freedom for all. In his own speech, Obama called for this generation to be once again “honorable, alike, in what we give and what we preserve — to nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of Earth.”</p><br><p>Obama immediately repeated that phrase: “To nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of Earth. That is our choice. Today we affirm hope.”</p><p>Obama’s rousing, preacher-style cadence was in sharp contrast to the stilted, academic tone of his Oval Office address about the fight against terrorism on Sunday night. The White House has struggled to counter calls from Republicans — and some Democrats — to limit the ranks of refugees fleeing terrorism in Syria. That task got even harder a week ago, when an apparently radicalized couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in the name of the Islamist terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or ISIL.</p><p>Obama has called for Americans not to give in to fear and demonize Muslims — both out of respect for American values and out of concern for national security, as ISIL uses anti-Muslim rhetoric to attract new recruits to combat what it portrays as a war on Islam. </p><p>Trump’s call to curtail Muslim admission into the United States — and the fact that it has not destroyed his political campaign — has been particularly galling for Obama’s team. It’s a sharp reversal of the transformative symbol and message of the first black president, a sign that threatens backward movement instead of the beginning of a post-racial era. </p><p>Obama spoke, obliquely, to those fears on Wednesday.</p><p>“Freedom for you, and for me. Freedom for all of us. And that’s what we celebrate today — the long arc of progress. Progress that is never assured, never guaranteed, but always possible, always there to be earned, no matter how stuck we might seem sometimes, no matter how divided or despairing we may appear, no matter what ugliness may bubble up,” he said. &quot;Progress, so long as we’re willing to push for it.”</p><p>Republicans on the HIll, afraid that Trump at the top of the ticket could hurt them down-ballot in 2016, have also taken to attacking him without a name-check. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) both attacked Trump’s position but never invoked his name, knowingly bashing his ideas as &quot;unworkable&quot; and his rhetoric as &quot;dreadful.&quot; A spokesman for Sasse said the omission was intentional: &quot;He doesn’t deserve it.&quot;</p><p><i>Burgess Everett and Nick Gass contributed to this report. </i><br /></p><br>

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