The elephant in the room for Thanksgiving dinner

Andy Jones
Andy Jones

Sometimes a disaster turns out to be a benefit. I remember reading somewhere that our evolution as a species was hastened by elephants knocking down the trees where our ancestors had been brachiating happily.

Imagine the disruption! Whereas anthropologist Stephen Jay Gould said that “evolution is a process of constant branching and expansion,” the elephant theory holds that we couldn’t “expand” until we came down from our branches.

The elephants were an obvious disaster to the early hominids, except that our ancestors had to evolve more quickly to survive, growing our human brains so that we could outsmart predators, use tools, and communicate more effectively. Thinking long-term, we bipedal hominids should have been grateful to the elephants.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, many of us will be forced to address that other elephant in the room. We can expect that talk around the dinner table will turn to President-elect Donald Trump, the self-congratulator-in-chief who, we have learned, plans to pack his White House with climate deniers and white supremacists, thus threatening the forward progress of our nation.

This past weekend Sacramento comedian Robert Berry tweeted this: “BREAKING NEWS: Donald Trump just appointed a new Secretary of Agriculture ... locusts!” We joke, but the talk of Sarah Palin in any Cabinet position might also have once seemed like a punch line.

Now, many Americans silently worry, realizing that Steve Bannon’s plan for our country is all the more dangerous because of the vengeful and protean aimlessness of his Republican leader.

How might we respond to this seeming disaster? Will the nation somehow eventually benefit if it survives what many anticipate will be the coming bottomless basket of calamities? Australian author Helen Razer has said, “Perhaps it is only when America sees itself in all its cartoonish ugliness that it can begin to reform itself.”

Confronting a force more destructive than a herd of elephants, some believe that Trump is just the “shock” that our democracy needs so that it, too, can evolve more quickly. I’m skeptical, but would like to hold out hope.

As we gather with our families, our love for them unchanged, and perhaps even deepened, many are redefining gratitude with a shudder as we consider what has become of our nation.

Andy Jones is a lecturer in the university writing program at UC Davis. Contact him at