Thanksgiving Thoughts

Dandelion color 300A Muslim friend of mine mentioned celebrating Thanksgiving, and then I overheard someone else quietly comment that Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday. I’m not so sure. I can’t imagine that the Pilgrims failed to notice that a few of their dinner guests had a decidedly heathenish look about them.

Thanksgiving is a time to (drum roll, please) give thanks, for many things. For instance, we are often critical of the direction our country is headed. Right now there is unrest in the Middle East, and the alignments among the various countries suggest apocalyptic potential. I don’t know anyone who is happy with any of it.

Every generation has had worries about our government, going right back to 1776. I think it’s important to remember that. The Founders of the country had to be a bit nervous about rebelling against the 18th century superpower that England represented, and more than one officer at Valley Forge must have questioned the wisdom of the whole mess. The Civil War appeared to be the end of a unified nation at several points in the conflict. And in WWII, there were multiple times that it wasn’t clear that the United States would survive. For those of us who didn’t live through it, it is hard to imagine but until the Battle of Midway we weren’t all that confident that our country would survive Axis ambitions.  Even after that, there were great periods of uncertainty; the night before the Normandy Invasion, Eisenhower was so pessimistic that he wrote a letter accepting complete responsibility for the failure of the operation.

It is our job to criticize our government. But I would like to propose, on this Thanksgiving, that it is also our job to be grateful for our government, and even to marvel that the whole is much, much larger than the sum of the parts. The genius of liberty, of democracy, of the free market, and freedom of expression, is that it liberates the genius in everyone. It doesn’t matter that the big picture doesn’t make sense to any one individual; equality creates an amoeba, acting and reacting, in intelligent ways that are not obvious except in retrospect.

There are always those who can find nothing right about government. In the 1960’s, it was the left who argued that the government was the enemy, and never did anything right. Today, there are some on the right who can find little positive to say.  They proudly declaim that America is the greatest country on earth, and then run it down. (And of course, there are those on the left who argue the same about those on the right.)

The right, however, is more interesting to me for a couple of reasons. For one, the deeply religious are often aligned with the right, and it seems to me that negativity and whole-cloth rejection reflect a certain lack of faith. That might include a lack of faith in the Almighty, but it also reflects a lack of faith in other people, and even in the democratic process. People disagree, they part ways on decisions. But we all learn, we all grow, we all react. Many paths will take us forward. To immediately reject any viewpoint or approach that does not match ours seems a bit faithless.

But the other reason goes to philosophy. In my literary dabblings, I have always thought that two of the conservative philosophers, Edmund Burke and Bernard Mandeville, are the scoundrels of philosophy. Not scoundrels because they are dishonest, but because their contrarian approaches make a little too much sense. While traditional philosophy critiques what is, and urges us toward some ideal, these two conservatives respond with a rather embarrassing argument: ‘But look, it works like it is.’

It doesn’t work for everyone, of course. In the time of Burke and Mandeville, the poor died their quiet deaths, from disease, hunger, and misuse. The only fiction in Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Match Girl‘ was the comfort of the matches. And today, while we fill our bellies on this feast day, it is good to remember that our ancestors could not imagine our luxury.

Nor can much of the world today. Millions of people live with famine, war, epidemics, oppression. If we think the country is headed in the wrong direction, it is good to remind ourselves that those people would gladly switch with us.

They would not complain that our taxes are too high.  They would not worry that our corporations are too greedy.  They would not think our president is too stupid.  They wouldn’t fret overmuch about pollution in the earth or in our food.  They wouldn’t find our politics to be all that polarized, and they wouldn’t complain that our crime rate is outrageous.

They would just be grateful.

Very, very grateful.

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Picture courtesy of  I chose a dandelion partly because, like all of us, it is a transplant from somewhere else.  Also, like all Americans, it is common, everyday, and hard to eradicate.  And it is magical.  The leaves make a strong salad, the heads make a particular wine, the flowers add beauty to the world, and the floating, flying seeds give delight to children.


  1. amanda

    thanks Joe – I enjoyed reading your post! good to think of things from your perspective. I often find myself feeling rather hopeless. very fitting for today, of all days, to reevaluate!

    • Ann Dobie

      Congratulations, Joe, on this first blog post. By some coincidence, not five minutes before I read it Walter and I were talking about how Thanksgiving seems to have lost its purpose: to give thanks. Now it seems all about football and turkey, and while I like them both, I like the idea of gathering with family and friends to assess our blessings better. This we were able to do, and I am thankful.

  2. Vaughan Simpson

    Couldn’t agree more, Joe. We need all to focus at least now and then on the positives, and cultivate a greater generosity of spirit. We can do better, but we do have it better than so, so many others in today’s world. Enjoyed your comments.

    • Bookscrounger

      Thanks, VB. I want to use this as a testing ground for some ideas I’ve been ruminating on, I want the feedback from as many disciplines, and viewpoints, as I can get. Keep those cards, letters & eComments coming…

  3. Eddie Cazayoux

    Good morning Joe. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. However, in the 60s, it was not the left that was against the government, it was everybody not trusting anyone over 30. But I think you are right – most hippies were left of center. I think when you are young you fall to that side and when you have to make a living you move to the other side. But when you get old, you should move back, lay back and enjoy life. And both sides curse the government – which does much better than we want to admit. And about the right being more Christian, most that I know do not believe in abortion but support the death penalty. I do not think they are very Christ like at all. I thank God for my life, my family, my country, this beautifyl planet that we live on, and that he created us to walk in his footsteps and enjoy His presencs. Pun intended.

    • Bookscrounger

      Thanks for the comments, Eddie. You’ve raised some interesting points; part of where I want to go with this blog is left vs right vs moderates. I’ll let you know when I get there, I’d enjoy your input.

  4. Madelyn walters

    I so enjoyed reading your thoughts and look forward to more. We do have truly so much to be thankful for that we take for granted. Thank you for opening our eyes and hopefully they will remain open to our many blessings. And your friendship is truly a blessing to me. Love you !!

    • Anne

      Joe, nicely done. Of course I love your reminder of what Thanksgiving should be. I also love the history and philosophy you brought to your view. Looking forward to more from you.

  5. Jerry

    I like this perspective Joe!

    George Carlin once said that the reason our government is made up of A-holes, is because the majority of people are A-holes. ( Those are his words, sorry if its in poor taste). And he is kinda right Lets face it, our government has quite a bit of faults that we can point to. And rightly so.

    However, in the grand scheme of things, we are still a relatively young nation, and we have have accomplished A LOT in our short history, despite having huge obstacles to overcome in the process. Westward expansion, abolishing slavery, desegregation, not to mention the many wars that we had to participate in. As well as creating our own sense of ideals that has set a standard for the world to follow. We’ve set standards in economics as well. We may still have a long way to go, but we have come a long way as well.

    We have, as a nation, done some pretty amazing things, all in our very short history. Our government has a tough job of balancing legislating ideals in one hand, and remaining a secular nation in the other. I think its high time we realize that as a people.

    Thanks for posting this!

    • Bookscrounger

      Good thoughts, Jerry.
      I would add this one from Molly Ivins: “I agree with an old state senator who always said that, `If you took all the fools out of the Legislature, it would not be a representative body anymore.'”

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