In October 1621, 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to celebrate the first Thanksgiving. After a harsh winter during which half the colonists died, they had a plentiful harvest of corn and ample stocks of fish to ensure the colony would survive. In 2019, we were the inheritors of this Thanksgiving; and, despite the national discord that grips us, we Americans still have much for which we can be thankful — and even hopeful.
First, we can be thankful that most of the world is at peace. Of course, this is not true for Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Israel; but, mercifully, these are exceptions. We are not living with the peril of daily nuclear annihilation for the 43 years (1946-89) of the Cold War. The military defeat of ISIS earlier this year has removed the danger of a radical, anti-Western Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Rather than exchanging threats of nuclear fireballs with North Korea, we are now just exchanging diplomatic communiques.
There hasn’t been a terrorist attack on American soil in years. Moreover, on the bloody fronts of regional wars, like Vietnam (1960-75) or Iran-Iraq (1980-88), with their millions of casualties, all is quiet. Taken altogether, today ours is a peaceful planet.
Second, we can be thankful for living in a booming economy. All boats are truly rising in a long-lasting expansion fueled by the engines of American capitalism. In this expansion, unemployment is falling and wages are rising, both to historic levels.
Unemployment has fallen for all disadvantaged demographic groups — African Americans, Hispanics and women. Wage gaps among all groups have similarly narrowed. Economically, these are good times.
Third, we can be thankful for the civil rights we still enjoy in a free society. The right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly are fully respected, except at some college campuses. We have a press that is free from government censorship, however opinionated it has become. All opinions have their outlets. On cable TV, liberals have CNN and MSNBC, while conservatives have Fox News. For print media, liberals read The New York Times or The Washington Post, as conservatives turn to The Wall Street Journal. Our local paper, by the way, makes a point of publishing columnists with divergent perspectives. Even on radio, there is the erudite NPR for liberals, whereas conservatives can tune their dials to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. For sure, each side hurls charges of “fake news” at the other, but some balance can be found if our citizenry would occasionally read or listen to opposite outlets.
Finally, we should be thankful for the representative democracy in which we live. Our Constitution set up a unique system of checks and balances among our three branches of government — the executive (the presidency), legislative (congress), and judicial (the courts) — so major political actions required the consent of all three.
The intent was that in such a system these actions would require the approval of a broad consensus of society. Further, what has allowed this system to weather the political storms of over two centuries has been the reliance on the safeguards of common rules of fairness; and, in a crisis, the intervention of a leader or party that puts the interests of the country as a whole above more partisan ones.
Today, in 2019, it is on these safeguards that our thankfulness founders. Impeaching a president is a serious political storm. The treatment of President Trump’s potential impeachment by the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is not encouraging. The facts that Republicans are not accorded the independence to subpoena their own witnesses and that supporters of the president are not permitted to confront his accuser, the alleged “whistleblower,” violate standards of judicial practice and fairness that go back centuries.
As for the safeguard of a leader in a crisis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initially showed her better nature by insisting that an impeachment inquiry only take place with bipartisan support. Otherwise, it would be “too divisive.” Sadly, she fell off her “good-for-the-country” horse when she allowed an impeachment inquiry vote in the House to go forward without a single Republican vote. Prophetically, the result has been a “too divisive” circus that is ripping the country apart.
But there are grounds for hope. It is worth recalling that we owe the federal holiday of Thanksgiving to President Abraham Lincoln. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, he declared the last Thursday of November to be a day of “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” He used this declaration, further, to pray that God would heal the nation’s wounds. Whatever the fate of President Trump in 2019, my Thanksgiving prayer is that God, in His mercy, delivers us from our politics of spite — and opens us to the doorway of His kingdom of love.