Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving every day
November 30, 2014
In a foreign service career that spanned 28 years and took me to assignments in nine different countries on three continents, I, along with my family, ended up celebrating many Thanksgivings far away. Mind you, we were living outside the United States by choice as that was a requirement of my career.
But in the annual celebration of this uniquely American holiday (only Canada shares Thanksgiving with us) we often reflected on how blessed we were in the United States. Blessed by divine providence, for sure, given the natural resources that are available in abundance on the North American continent, but more importantly blessed by the vision of our founding fathers.
Yes, they were white men, and yes, many of them owned slaves: two facts that are quickly brought up by America-bashers as proof for the contention we as a nation were unprincipled from the outset. Yet the founding fathers shared a vision of a new form of government that differed significantly in the way it interacted with the governed and balanced powers among three branches so no one institution dominated the political scene.
The true genius of the American experiment in government, though — the reality that separates us from most other countries of the world — is the freedom we have to define ourselves, to innovate and to create. America is not a wealthy country because of abundant natural resources. We are rich because of the creative ingenuity that has been unleashed and allowed to flower here.
We all know the examples of this: that in one century we went from a horse-and-buggy society to a land where 137 million passenger cars are privately owned; where paved roads take us to the remotest points in the land, where abundant food is sold everywhere without rationing, and where air travel is inexpensive and common. Ok, I know we're treated like cattle on most airlines, but that's another matter.
The statistics on computer ownership and use are even more staggering. In short, the situation we find ourselves in is worlds away from where we have been a hundred years ago. In two lifespans life is immeasurably more advanced, healthy and comfortable than in the past. Just think central heat and air conditioning if you have any doubts. Or roasting that turkey in an electric oven instead of a wood-fired stove.
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Now the groundwork is being cleared for a presidential election in two years. As campaign themes are being tested, income inequality seems to top the list. Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren have both used the "you didn't build that" line to fire up their base. Both have also spoken out about women earning less than their male counterparts. The themes are revealing for what is NOT being said: we're not talking about childhood diseases taking half our newborns, or about polio, smallpox and unsafe water supplies. These were issues in most of the countries where my family and I celebrated past Thanksgivings, just as they were in America only a hundred years ago.
We will probably also be talking about racial inequality, especially in the wake of the TV coverage of burning and looting in Ferguson, Mo. Never mind the "demonstrators" (or more properly "looters") are stealing cellphones and Air Jordan basketball shoes, not food and cooking utensils as would have been the case where I lived for 20 years in Africa. Never mind the drama they are acting out (teenaged Michael Brown with his hands up in the air) does not coincide with the Grand Jury's findings or eyewitness testimony.
I am no Pollyanna, but I think we need to acknowledge honestly how much progress we have made, how much we as a nation and a government are committed to further progress, and how large a role private enterprise plays in our ongoing development. Let us give thanks to our founding fathers for their vision. Let us celebrate Thanksgiving every day.
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