Thanksgiving Day, 2020 was a day for which to be thankful. It commemorated a day in 1621 when Plymouth colonists feasted with Native Americans. If our subsequent dealings with the native people of our country had a more honorable, instead of genocidal, history, Thanksgiving could be marked as a day to remember the beginning of a wonderful tradition of ethnic harmony, the kind of day Frederic Douglass might have exalted. Alas, “honorable” does not describe the history of Whites dealings with people of color.
Yet, despite this shameful aspect of our history, on this year’s Thanksgiving Day, I was still amazingly thankful. And not just for all the personal gifts I have received--like Nancy, a great wife of 57 years; three grown children and six grandchildren, all healthy; and a formal education, capped by five years at Georgetown, which left me prepared for the challenges of life. This Thanksgiving I was most grateful that Donald Trump’s days as president will soon end. I feel like someone who has awakened from a nightmare, a terrible one, and now the sun is shining.
Joe Biden, a decent man, will soon be president. No doubt, like all of us fallible humans, he will make his share of mistakes in the days ahead. And when he does--and maybe even sometimes when he doesn’t but we just think he has--we writing for the LA Progressive will criticize him, as is appropriate in a nation with a free press.
This Thanksgiving I was most grateful that Donald Trump’s days as president will soon end. I feel like someone who has awakened from a nightmare, a terrible one, and now the sun is shining.
But now we should just take a moment to be thankful. We will have plenty to quibble about in the future. But Biden, unlike Trump, cares about his fellow human beings and cares about the planet we all share. And he values science and truth, and will do his best to be guided by them.
In the few weeks he has been president-elect he has conducted himself professionally and honorably while Trump continues to whine, like a textbook example of a sore loser. Among other actions Biden’s announcement that former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as the Special Envoy for the Climate Crisis “is an extraordinarily hopeful sign” that the Biden administration will try to undo the incredible damage that Trump has inflicted on our environment. Four more years of Trump could well have doomed the future of our grandkids to the type of day-to-day environmental struggle imagined by California writer T. C. Boyle in his novel A Friend of the Earth (2000).
Biden’s handling of our present coronavirus epidemic will also be more professional and less erratic and ego-driven than Trump’s. On the day before Thanksgiving, he told the nation, “We need to remember we’re at war with the virus, not with one another, not with each other.” He urged steps “based on science, real science,” steps like wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, and limiting group-gathering size.
Also on this Thanksgiving there was a hopeful message from a man for whom Biden has expressed admiration, the leader of his Catholic faith, Pope Francis. Having already written long works criticizing capitalist excesses (2013) and environmental damage (2015), and emphasizing the importance of seeking the common good in his Address to the U. S. Congress (2015), on this Thanksgiving Day of 2020 he opined in The New York Times about our current covid pandemic.
In his essay he bemoans all the “people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.” But he hopes that the pandemic will reveal “what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the [polarizing] ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected.” He praises those who have died--like “the nurses, doctors and caregivers” and all others including those “whose vocations were service”--helping care for those stricken by the pandemic. “Whether or not they were conscious of it,” he writes, “their choice testified to a belief: that it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call. . . . They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves, not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service.”
He praises most “governments [that] have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first.” But, without mentioning Trump or Trumpians, he criticizes “governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths” and individuals who refused to practice social distancing, “marching against travel restrictions—as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom!” He reminds us, “Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.” And, as he has done before, he criticizes ideological rigidity: “It is all too easy for some to take an idea—in this case, for example, personal freedom—and turn it into an ideology.”
He hopes we will come out of this pandemic “less selfish than when we went in.” “This,” he adds, “is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities—what we value, what we want, what we seek.” He warns us not to “return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. What we need, he concludes, are “economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.”
Designing “better ways of living together on this earth” has now (since Trump is on the way out) become much more possible--especially in the USA. For that, on this 2020 Thanksgiving weekend, we should be very thankful.
Walter G. Moss