This Thanksgiving week I’ve been trying hard to get to Shellie Lake at sunrise. The birds usually start flying shortly after that in the warm fall colors. As I went to the same place every day, it seemed like the birds seemed to be getting used to me. One group of geese swam to the shore close to me and started out of the water. Just then a jogger came along the path, and they retreated. I didn’t necessarily think they liked me better, but most likely they preferred the familiar to the unfamiliar — just like us.
We had a happy Thanksgiving dinner with family, and of course thought about some of the many things we had to be grateful for. One of those things was new this year: I was grateful that there were several pieces of mainstream journalism on the truth behind the traditional Thanksgiving story— in the NY Times (here and here), the Washington Post (here), and elsewhere. They pointed out that the story most of us were taught significantly distorts the history of early English colonialists and their relation to North America’s indigenous peoples.
This is a chapter of American history that still gets little attention in our basic history courses, and it’s uncomfortable. It’s hard to feel good about the colonists’ attacking and in some cases destroying civilizations. But pretending it was otherwise is even more problematic.
The traditional Thanksgiving story is tricky, because the superficial lesson is a sweet one of racial harmony. But the more subtle message is about the racial superiority of the colonists and the inferiority of the “savages.” That second message — that the white race is superior — continues to infect our society. Some of its victims (surviving Native Americans) are still with us. We owe Native Americans a lot, as the traditional story acknowledges. We can cultivate respect for them, and work towards realizing the racial harmony of that story.
President Trump has issued a call to arms against those who supposedly want to declare a “War on Thanksgiving.” The point seems to be sort of like the supposed “War on Christmas” — that is, generating fear and outrage in the Republican base at any challenges to traditional practices, be they religious, consumerist, or just old habits.
It took me a long time to realize that there are real people who are genuinely triggered by this bogus fearmongering. They are highly susceptible to false claims that their values and way of life are under attack by liberals. When they watch Fox News, they hear such claims all the time, and they get angry and afraid. They are encouraged to believe that the true cause of their anger and fear is liberals. So they really hate liberals!
This is the best explanation I can come up with for a good portion of Republicans continuing to support Trump. No matter how clear the evidence of his high crimes and misdemeanors, they see him as a lesser evil than the evil liberals.
There’s no clear path out of this level of polarization, which calls to mind the dehumanization of wartime enemies (remember “Krauts” and “Japs”?). But I’m still hopeful that the fever will eventually break. After all, we’re now pretty good friends with the Germans and Japanese.
Anyhow, just so we’re clear, I’m not suggesting a war on Thanksgiving. And I’d like to throw out a few last notes of respect and gratitude for people who are risking much struggling for human dignity and the planet, including students fighting for democracy in Hong Kong, Europeans protesting consumerism and environmental irresponsibility, South Americans protesting corruption and inequality, and many others. Let us all give thanks for those brave souls, and perhaps find in ourselves something of their courage.