Today is Thanksgiving, the day we give thanks for… what? For the day that settlers from England gave smallpox to the aboriginal inhabitants of this continent?
Are we thankful that we are the greatest nation on Earth, before falling asleep in front of a 54-inch HDTV made in China or Korea, and showing a gladiatorial game?
As an aside, the flyers in my mailbox this week are pushing both snack food and anti-acids. Am I the only one who sees the irony?
What do we have to be thankful for?
First, the USA is still the best place on Earth to live. Except perhaps Canada, which has universal health coverage of the sort that the Republican Party and Trump would like to destroy.
Okay, it’s a lot colder in Canada and their definition of “football” is, well, not quite what we think. I’m reminded of the apothegm: “Soccer is football for gentlemen; football is football for idiots.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am a patriot. I’m pretty sure that the United States is the best place on Earth to live. On the other hand I understand the fallacy in the notion of, “My country, right or wrong.”
Make no mistake. We’ve been wrong. We adopted a constitution that enshrined slavery. Then we fought a war over this flaw in our constitution and then amended the constitution to prohibit involuntary servitude except for criminals. Then, we took advantage of that loophole and ran the steel mills of Birmingham and cotton plantations of Mississippi with what amounted to slave labor.
Our Supreme Court once ruled that women, by their very temperament, could not be lawyers. The Jewish bible, whose influence is unfortunately revered by today’s fundamentalists, sets the value of a woman at 60% that of a man—and women’s salaries still reflect that ancient, masochistic value. We elected to be our president a man whose statements clearly show he does not respect women.
We passed a constitutional amendment that prohibits restrictions on voting based on race. When white supremacists implemented poll taxes to stop Negroes from voting, we passed another amendment to stop that.
However, when white supremacists and Republicans make it difficult for persons of color to vote by restricting early voting to work days and by limiting places for early voting, no one spoke out, and the Supreme Court failed to stop this. This, by the way, is the situation today. As of 2016.
It’s obvious that we have not gone very far past the prejudices of the late 19th century. It’s obvious that institutional and individual racist views persist.
I see this when a local elected official denigrates apartment complexes. His argument that apartments “decay faster” than individual homes is specious. His real concern is that “apartments” means “Section 8” which means “poor, black.” Can you say, “dog-whistle?” *
By the way, the expression, “My country, right or wrong,” is often attributed to Carl Schurz, in 1812. But what he said was, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
The outcome of the recent presidential election and the ongoing transition show me that as a nation we seem to have lost sight of the second part of Schurz’s toast.
Notes and references.
I don’t want to say, “Indians,” since that perpetuates an error on the part of Columbus and others. I don’t want to say “Native Americans,” because technically, having been born in this country I am a native American, but not an enrolled member of any nation or tribe. I’ll use the more technical term, “aboriginal,” meaning “before the origin”—of recorded history, at least.
* Dog whistle is a strategy of communication that sends a message that the general population will take a certain meaning from, but a certain group that is "in the know" will take away the secret, intended message. Often involves code words.
For example: Republicans say they want to make civil rights for gays a state issue, which is really just a dog whistle strategy for saying that they will refuse to grant equal rights on a federal level.
The series, “It’s All About the Children—Climate” will resume no later than Saturday with “Sunspots.”
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.