Columnist’s note: President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak this afternoon at Amazon. Odds are, his speech is already written. If not, I humbly offer this one in its stead.
My fellow Americans,
Good afternoon. Thank you for having me in Chattanooga.
Some of you are surprised I’m here. A liberal president in a state as Republican as this? Look around. I have few friends here. Did your U.S. senators even bother to come today? Did your governor or Representative Fleischmann?
So why did I?
I came because Chattanooga is the exception to the rule. I came because Chattanooga has something most places around this country covet.
Chattanooga has jobs and innovation, creativity and excitement. At a time when poverty is becoming commonplace, when four out of five Americans will taste the bitter cup of economic insecurity at some point in their lives, I both love and fear what your city offers.
I love it because it’s reminiscent of the America that once was.
But I fear we may never return to those days again.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been traveling the country, talking about jobs and the economy. Mainly, it’s theater and spectacle. Like a magician, I juggle one illusion after another, trying to prop up your faith with press-conference words and flowery, vigorous speeches about a broken system that’s supposed to serve you, the people.
I’m not going to do that today. Our hearts are beginning to crack and our ears are growing deaf. My choir has heard me preach enough; today I am in the lion’s den.
Today, let’s tell the truth.
The reality of the American Dream is that it’s becoming an American nightmare.
Look at where I am today: Amazon’s distribution center. I’m supposed to praise this as a place to rebuild the middle class?
It’s preposterous to come here, a place that hires temp workers. And if you’re not a
temp worker, you’re earning $13 an hour full time. That’s less than $30,000 a year: a full-time job that delivers a paycheck-to-paycheck life.
There is no security in that. You can’t plan for your kid’s college. You can’t go on vacation. It’s not a bargain for the middle class. Maybe for Jeff Bezos, but not the middle class.
Amazon swallows up Mom and Pop small businesses. Amazon is a warehouse with a call center; small business is folks you know behind the scratched counter. Amazon exists everywhere and nowhere, produces nothing of substance, creates nothing of societal value.
But America was built on Mom and Pop, the small business and the home-grown economy. Will they ever return?
Driving here from the airport, I saw crowds of protesters. I wasn’t surprised. My only surprise is that there are so few. Each day, I look out from the Oval Office and wonder: Why is everyone not taking to the streets? Why is Washington not being overrun?
This economy, based on competition and money lust, values profit before people. We’ve given it god-like powers; it can make people sick, kick them out of their homes, out-source their paychecks and livelihoods.
Each day, Cain kills Abel, and we nod acceptingly, and call it Wall Street.
I’ve traveled all across this country. You know the character trait that’s so hard to find? Joy. There is no joy left. America is leaning toward Mudville; no longer mighty, too many striking out.
We’ve come to believe the lie that our work should not elevate, enlighten or strengthen our souls. We don’t whistle while we work; we sigh. We don’t have careers, we have jobs … sometimes two or three of them. As economist David Korten points out: We’ve fallen into the beartrap lie that people are here to serve the economy, not the other way around.
Fifty years ago next month, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the famous March on Washington when he asked us to look inside ourselves, at our American conscience, and decide: What kind of America do we want?
My presidency has been an embarrassment to Dr. King’s legacy. I have been a failed leader. I have authored drone strikes that killed overseas civilians. I have presided over the breaking dam of national poverty. I have turned a blind eye to the militarism that infects our national budget. I have danced with the oligarchy and toasted the mighty powers and principalities despite pledging to the exact opposite to get this job.
I’ve joined in the circus that sequesters our ethics and morality in the name of far lesser things.
But this question from King still hangs in the air, waiting for us to give a proper answer.
The truth is: Our economy won’t get fixed until we do.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...