In what was scheduled as the final news conference of his presidency, Obama said that after all he has witnessed, he is walking away with a sense of hopefulness about the country and where it is going.
He framed the comments as a description of what he had told his daughters after this year's election, but his remarks, likely to be among his last public statements from the
Many on his side of the aisle have talked in near-apocalyptic tones in recent weeks about the impending Trump administration. Obama was more measured.
"I believe in this country," he said. "I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there's evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we're true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time."
"That's what this presidency has tried to be about," he said.
The message will likely be his last one in public for a while. Obama said he reserves the right to speak up, especially if what he called America's "core values" come under assault. Short of that, however, he plans now to go into a period of "quiet" and "not hear [himself] talk so darn much."
He'll devote himself to writing and contemplation, he said, taking time for reflection that he hasn't had under the pressures of the Oval Office.
His departure on Friday comes at a time of anxiety for many of his fellow Democrats. Dozens of Democratic members of Congress are planning to boycott Donald Trump's inauguration. Women's groups and unions are organizing demonstrations for the coming weekend.
Obama has not repudiated the criticisms he leveled at Trump during the campaign. But since the election, he has also looked for positive things to say, focusing on Trump's willingness to listen to him and, perhaps, to change his mind when persuaded.
On Wednesday, as he took his final round of questions, Obama said he would wait to see whether Trump had accepted any of his thoughts. He also said he was sure he wouldn't be the last nonwhite man to hold the presidency.
"I think we're going to see people of merit rise up from every race, faith, corner of this country, because that's America's strength," Obama said. "When we have everybody getting a chance and everybody's on the field, we end up being better."
He added: "Yeah, we're going to have a woman president. We're going to have a Latino president. And we'll have a Jewish president, a Hindu president. You know, who knows who we're going to have? I suspect we'll have a whole bunch of mixed-up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them."
Much of his optimism, he said, stemmed from watching a younger generation that is much more open to differences of all kinds.
As evidence, he cited his daughters, Malia and Sasha, one headed to college and the other now in high school.
The two have grown up in an environment where they couldn't help but be patriotic, Obama said, to see the country's flaws and to feel a sense of responsibility to fix them.
And they were well-aware of their parents' concerns about Trump and the movement behind him. Their father campaigned hard for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, and their mother delivered a speech in October in which she addressed Trump's vulgar words about women, disclosed on a videotape, saying she was "shaken … to [her] core" by his remarks.
"They were disappointed," Obama said. "They paid attention to what their mom said during the campaign and believed it because it's consistent with what we have tried to teach them in our household, and what I've tried to model as a father with their mom, and what we've asked them to expect from future boyfriends or spouses."
Still, he said, his daughters hadn't gotten cynical.
"They have not assumed because their side didn't win, or because some of the values that they care about don't seem as if they were vindicated, that automatically America has somehow rejected them or rejected their values," he said.
Instead, they have "appreciated the fact that this is a big, complicated country, and democracy is messy; it doesn't always work exactly the way you might want. It doesn't guarantee certain outcomes," he said.
But, he said, his daughters know that "there's a core decency to this country and that they got to be a part of lifting that up. And I expect they will be."
For months, Obama has said he would relish the moment when he could set aside the responsibilities of governing and return to thinking and analyzing and talking about the country like a citizen. He told friends he looked forward to being able to see the world not through the gloom and doom of the presidential daily briefing.
That moment seemed to dawn at the end of the news conference Wednesday as he was channeling the optimism of Malia and Sasha Obama.
"Sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does, but at my core, I think we're going to be OK," he said. "We just have to fight for it; we have to work for it and not take it for granted."