A Time to Give Thanks

What else to do after a year of rage and chaos?

Dare I suggest that many of us aren’t feeling terribly inclined to be thankful this year? The months of lockdown have sapped our spirits and then some, taking a psychological toll of a kind that has yet to be fully appreciated, let alone properly diagnosed. The utterly insane Antifa and BLM riots – plus the spineless public officials who refused to quell them, and the disgraceful journalists who called them “mostly peaceful” – made many of us ask, in genuine bafflement and alarm: what on Earth has happened to America? And the possibility that rampant electoral fraud will deny the best president of our lifetimes a second term has caused widespread bitterness – not to mention astonishment and disillusion at the thought that so many American election officials could be capable of such Third World-level corruption.

There are other reasons for dismay. During the Trump years, we’ve learned that almost everyone in our national news media is simply not to be trusted. We’ve learned that Barack Obama, in an audacious act of treason that had the support of Biden, Hillary, and others, actively sought to unseat his successor. The idea that these traitors will probably get off not only scot-free but bathed in enduring adulation is grounds for a major funk.

Add to all this the prospect of a Biden-Harris administration, with everything that that signifies – including the re-empowerment of China, the reversal of Trump’s economic triumphs, a return to a Palestinian-centered Middle Eastern policy, an end to responsible border controls, and the acceleration of poisonous left-wing cultural developments at home – and it’s far from a formula for good cheer.

As 2020 approaches its close, in short, there’s plenty of cause for concern about the direction America will take in 2021 and afterwards.

All the more reason, then, to turn away from the news, at least for a day, and embrace Thanksgiving. Bah and humbug to the autocratic governors and mayors who are ordering us not to gather together. The hell with those social-justice warriors for whom Thanksgiving is nothing other than an opportunity to accuse America of racism and genocide.

On Election Day we were reminded that standing in line to vote was our ultimate American ritual. Well, millions of us didn’t stand in line this year, and it looks as if that was a big part of the problem (one that we can hope will be corrected in future). But, yes, Election Day is the occasion on which we carry out our solemn responsibilities as citizens of a democratic republic, just as July 4 is the day on which we celebrate our independence with, as John Adams foresaw, “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations.”

Still, other countries have their own Election Days and Bastille Days and Constitution Days and the like. It’s Thanksgiving that is the most distinctively American of holidays. (Yes, I know Canada celebrates it too, in October – a practice begun after the American Revolution by Loyalists who had fled north.) And it isn’t a day of civic commemoration. It’s more like a sacrament – a celebration of family and community, a yearly reminder that the heart of our country is not located in Washington, D.C., but in every hearth and home, and that Americans, who have no masters, bow only in prayer.

Thanksgiving summons us to look back not to 1776 or 1789 but more than a century earlier, to the Mayflower settlers – who sailed to the New World of their own accord, who had no government but themselves, and whose descendants peopled a continent, turning it into the breadbasket of the world, the arsenal of democracy, the last, best hope of humanity, and the engine of modernity.

We sometimes take it for granted that the electric light and telephone are American inventions, that Americans gave the world manned flight and put men on the moon, that Americans decoded DNA and led the computer revolution. We’re so used to America being on top that it doesn’t occur to us even to think about it, let alone give thanks for it. When news came the other day that two U.S. firms, Moderna and Pfizer, were on the verge of launching promising new COVID-19 vaccines, how many of us even thought to swell with pride that America had done it again?

The prospect of a vaccine that may enable us all to return to normal after this most abnormal of years should be reason enough to bow our heads in gratitude. But there’s much more for which we should give thanks. During the past year no two of us have lived the same lives. For me, 2019 happened to have been a nightmare, whereas 2020 was happy. I assume that’s true of millions of others.

As for politics, no matter who ends up being inaugurated on January 20, we should be thankful for the four years of Donald Trump that we’ve already had. He was a miracle. The shock is not that he may have lost his bid for re-election but that the American electorate managed to put him in the White House in the first place and keep him there, despite the best efforts of both major party establishments, the Deep State, the news media, the academy, and Silicon Valley. 

There’s more. In the last few days, I’ve felt increasingly grateful for what I can only describe as a newfound clarity. As David Horowitz put it earlier this week, the lesson of the election is that those of us who stand for individual freedom and constitutional values are engaged in a great civil war with totalitarian-minded Democrats who see America as founded on systemic racism and who seek to “abolish liberal value systems and create a status hierarchy” based on identity-group labels.

It’s a sad truth. But better to know that truth than to be ignorant of it. One silver lining is that many rank-and-file Democrats are just beginning to grasp how dramatically their party has transformed in recent decades. If Biden and Harris get in, these people will get it soon enough. Perhaps a baptism by fire of clueless Democrats is what we need if we want to see a lasting American renewal.

So, yes, we have a fight ahead. But we should be thankful to know that the terms are clear, that we’re in the right, and that the views of most of our political opponents – not the relative handful of unshakable ideologues at the top, but the army of low-information voters below – are rooted largely in ignorance, not malice.   

In the meantime, we shouldn’t make the mistake that leftists make of comparing what we have here and now to some unattainable ideal. Our founders didn’t set out to create a utopia. They knew better. They were keenly aware of man’s imperfectability. So it is that being American has never been about seeking perfection. Rather, it’s about being engaged in a constant struggle to keep the train on the track even as fools and knaves try to steer it astray. From the Civil War and Reconstruction to the Great Depression and World War II to Vietnam and Watergate, we’ve encountered daunting challenges and faced intimidating odds. Again and again, we’ve not only survived but thrived. Because there’s something in us, as Americans, that enables us to confront troubles with grit, fortitude, and good humor.

And that, in itself, something to be thankful for: the very fact that we’re Americans. Because being American doesn’t just mean living in freedom and prosperity, but having certain attributes that we share with our antecedents and that brought that freedom and prosperity into being in the first place.

No, we don’t all share the same personality, but, generally speaking, we tend to fit a recognizable type when we go out into the world. Margaret Thatcher once quoted Winston Churchill as saying that “Americans seem to be the only men who can laugh and fight at the same time.” Yes, we laugh easily. We smile at strangers (but keep our powder dry). We’re forward-looking, curious, inventive, independent-minded. We don’t think we’re superior to anyone else (this is, to be sure, an American trait from which our leftist countrymen have succeeded in liberating themselves) but we don’t think we’re inferior, either. While people in other countries resent accomplishment, we respect success earned by hard work. Others muddle through; we pursue happiness and shoot for the stars.

Those of us whose family histories in America go back more than two or three generations may not know the specifics of our settler, pioneer, or immigrant ancestors’ lives. But we know they had it much tougher than we do. We know that we owe our present comfort to their determination to overcome unimaginable adversity; we know that we owe our abundance of leisure time to their hard work; we know that we owe our liberty to their brave decision to pull up stakes and take risks in order to live free in a foreign place.

Knowing that our rugged American forebears were always thankful for the gift of America, can we be any less grateful for it? Knowing, at this beginning of the annual season of hope, that many of our forebears had nothing but hope, dare we entertain the thought that we’re living in a time when all hope has been lost?

No, we’re Americans. When things go sideways, we don’t commit seppuku or drown ourselves in vodka or wave the white flag as the enemy comes marching down the Champs-Élyssées. We fight, we hope, and, yes, we give thanks. So far, the standard bearers of tyranny haven’t been able to take any of that away from us. God willing, they never shall.