Each November since 1863, this country has celebrated Thanksgiving. Originally intended as a quasi-religious moment for grateful pause in the national trauma of the Civil War, the day was made a national institution by President Abraham Lincoln, who called for “the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
More recently, Thanksgiving has morphed into a more secular national holiday, on which we eat lots of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, and settle in to watch as much football as the networks can broadcast in a single day. Do we give thanks? Sure. Do we spend much time doing so? Not that much.
We should – even this year, even in California, where gratitude has not been the prevailing response to the nation’s direction.
Yes, it is true that “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union” are hardly the first words that come to mind 10 months into President Donald Trump’s tenure. In a poll this week from the PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist, 58 percent of U.S. adults said they “dread the thought of having to talk about politics at Thanksgiving dinner.”
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But it’s striking how well our institutions, at all levels, have held up in this moment of extreme divisiveness and distrust, and that’s something for which we can and should be grateful.
Did Russians interfere, with the Trump campaign’s complicity, in the 2016 election? The jury remains out, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation continues and the rule of law is, so far, working.
Have “fake news” and propaganda caught us flat-footed? Yes, but not for long, and not without vehement backlash. The First Amendment is intact, the presses are rolling, and facts are being published and broadcast by real reporters.
Are there fears that gerrymandering might rig the system for an unpopular president and his unpopular party? Yes, but elections in New Jersey and Virginia showed grassroots organizing, along with greater involvement by younger voters, still has power.
Californians, in particular, can be thankful. The institution of states’ rights has allowed us to stand united against Trump policies that would undermine public health, worsen equality, and persecute immigrant families. At a time of deep fear over global warming, strong leadership from Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature has given America the international voice on climate that Trump has failed to muster.
Regional institutions, too, have proven sturdy. The political response to homelessness in Sacramento, for instance, has been a textbook case of pressure from the public and the press successfully changing policy.
And other local institutions have held. Charities and nonprofits continue to do good works. We should support them with our time and money. After the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is a good reminder to donate and help the less fortunate, including via The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams.
It has been no small feat, holding onto this framework of shared priorities and values. And yet without it, we would not be a nation.
So as we give thanks for our meals, our families, our health, our pie and our victorious football teams on this unofficial start of the American holiday season, please reserve a moment of thanksgiving for our institutions. Here’s hoping they hold out for the next 1,153 or so days.