Like many Americans, I didn’t fly to a family gathering at Thanksgiving this year – the first time I’d missed it in decades.
That got me thinking about the origins of the holiday – beyond the set piece of Mayflower pilgrims and Indians, and beyond the annual turkey gorge fest and Black Friday sales.
Rereading a little history I learned that it wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. In his proclamation Lincoln urged all Americans to ask God to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
I thought of Lincoln’s prayer as I dined outdoors with friends on Thursday, because it touched on why I’m giving more fervent thanks this year than in the past few years. The reasons revolve around a president-elect who pledges “not to divide but to unify,” who talks not of his brilliance and grievances but about a “time to heal” the country.
Maybe such bipartisan outreach will be rejected. But at least the Biden team is making a serious effort to narrow the political chasm that is paralyzing our democracy. With that in mind, here are some of the things I’m thankful for this year.
I give thanks I need no longer pay attention to the lies and wild conspiracy tweets that President Donald Trump serves up daily (although I’ll have to follow whether he’s still stirring up civil war or whether GOP leaders finally reject his threats).
After four years of such demagoguery, I’m grateful for an incoming president who speaks calmly of leading by “the power of our example.”
And I am beyond thankful to watch an incoming Biden team that adheres to facts and science, rather than falsehoods and misinformation. Even as Trump ignores the raging pandemic death toll, Biden has put together a stellar virus task force ready to organize a national strategy for testing and vaccine distribution. (Trump has failed in the first, and paid little attention to the second).
And imagine having a cabinet member devoted exclusively to the climate threat, rather than a leader who flat out denies the findings of climate science.
And I give thanks that America will have a cabinet that represents the demographics of the nation, a team that is marked by professionalism and expertise, rather than a group of sycophants. Trump has fired anyone with the honesty or know-how to offer serious advice.
It was thrilling to watch the nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a noted U.S. diplomat with 35 years of experience, including as ambassador to Liberia. As an African-American woman, she grew up in segregated Louisiana, with a dad who couldn’t read or write, but who taught her to believe in herself and country.
Whether or not you agree with Biden’s picks or his policies, you should give thanks for nominees who won’t be cowed from speaking frankly. What a change from a president who let his minions gut the State Department and tried to twist our intelligence agencies into political tools.
And I give thanks for a new head of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, who is an immigrant. Imagine that. He came to this country as a child with Cuban parents escaping communism, parents who “cherished our democracy and were intensely proud to become U.S. citizens.” With deep experience in immigration issues, Mayorkas gives every sign that he will try to fix a broken immigration system that has been scarred by chaos, dysfunction and cruelty.
So I give thanks that the word “immigrants’ – a term referring to waves of people who built our country with hard work and strong values – will no longer be used as a curse by a White House that has slashed legal immigration to a fraction of its normal numbers.
And I give special thanks to the return of empathy among the land’s senior officials, along with a concept of service to country and to the American people.
The story told by Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken says it all: His late stepfather, Samuel Pisar, after surviving four years in concentration camps as a child, made a break from a death march, and eventually approached a U.S. tank. The hatch opened, and an African American GI looked down at him. And Pisar said the only words of English he knew, taught to him by his mother, before the war: “God Bless America.”
“That is who we are,” Blinken said, “That’s what America represents to the world, however imperfectly.”
What a moving contrast to a president who rushes onstage to tout the Dow but never mentions the numbers of COVID-19 dead or miles-long food lines in our country.