American Culture

A day to not be thankful …

Since I left college in the ‘60s, my “thankful” list has shrunk. The “not thankful” list is on its second ream of paper.

Ah, Thanksgiving. The time to be thankful, as tradition and good manners tell me.

So, I’ll be thankful. But for what?

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“Yeah. Like I’m gonna be thankful …”

I’m thankful, surely, for the love, compassion, caring, and patience of my family and my closest friends near and far (and here at S&R). I’m thankful I’ve reached 71 years old in reasonably good health and as a well-trained, professional curmudgeon.

I’m thankful I have health insurance (costly as it is) while millions of Americans do not — and will not under “reform” proposals advancing in Congress. I’m not thankful Congress and the executive branch of the federal government believe not every American should be provided quality health care at an affordable price. I’m not thankful health care for veterans isn’t as timely as veterans of America’s armed forces wish it would be.

I’m thankful I have the freedom to buy a firearm (I’ve always wanted a lever-action carbine like the cowboys flaunted in ‘40s and ‘50s western movies). But I’m not thankful I’m able to buy lots of 30-shot magazines and assault weapons designed solely for killing people in warfare yet marketed and sold as “manly.” I’m not thankful for the gun industry’s militarized (but, sadly, legal) advertising.

I’m thankful I can teach (at least in a university setting) what I want to within the purview of my profession and my experience. I’m not thankful state legislatures and the Texas Board of Education can severely restrict what is taught in primary and secondary schools based on ideological or religious preferences.

I’m thankful so many Americans — as well as immigrants who have not yet become naturalized citizens — have been willing to shoulder arms (and in these days of cyber warfare, take up computers) in defense of the rest of us. But I’m not thankful — no one should be thankful — for the unwise, sometimes morally impaired, policy decisions old men make that commit young men and women to a battlefield far away. I am thankful for the sacrifice of the young  — but rarely for the contorted decisions by the old that led to it.

I’m thankful the United States is perceived as powerful. It lends the feeling, if not always the substance, of security within American borders. But I’m not thankful the United States maintains nearly 800 bases in 70 countries worldwide. I’m thankful so many Americans are not isolationist in their thinking, but I’m not thankful the massive American military presence beyond our borders comes with such important questions rarely discussed: How much do they cost? Have corruption and no-bid contracts made the cost unreasonable? How are the bases paid for? How is the benefit to the United States measured? With what metrics? Is the perceived benefit worth the actual cost?

I’m thankful the First Amendment exists. It allows me to speak freely, to work as a journalist without fear of prior restraint, to practice (or not) any religion I wish, to yell aggrieved at the government and expect an answer, and to assemble peaceably with whomever I want. But I’m not thankful so many seek to limit the baseline freedoms inherent in the First Amendment. The president argues the media have too much freedom. The American Civil Liberties Union is attacked because it protects free speech — even abhorrent speech not declared illegal by law or court. I’m thankful free speech has such an ardent advocate. I’m not thankful how so many nut jobs and white supremacists use that freedom so ignorantly, shamefully, and hatefully. No one should be thankful hate speech, and hate crimes, have caused so much trauma to innocent people.

Homeland Security PrecrimeI’m thankful for the modern conveniences afforded by digital technology. My satellite GPS device will allow me to summon help on my sojourns through the desert Southwest absent cell service. But I am surely not thankful these modern devices allow federal, state, and local governments to track me, often without warrant, despite my lawful behavior and movements. I’m so not thankful many Americans have allowed the government to persuade them security trumps privacy. I’m not thankful for such governmental abilities to intrude without cause or warrant into my private life.

I’m thankful I’ve been able to visit every national park west of the Rockies, many in both summer and winter. I’m thankful John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot (and so many other preservationists, conservationists, and environmental writers) sought to protect the remarkable, irreplaceable natural resources within America’s boundaries. I’m not thankful the current secretary of the Interior and his appointed minions, spurred on by the president and Big Logging, Big Ranching, Big Mining, and Big Drilling, are hell-bent on undoing that legacy. Nor am I thankful the doubling of the American population since my birth at the end of World War II has increased the extraction pressures on those resources contained in national parks, monuments, and forests.

I’m thankful my students have the opportunity to go to college. I’m not thankful such opportunities are spread unevenly across gender, ethnic, ideological, socioeconomic, and religious boundaries. I’m not thankful American college students — you know, the youth who presumably represent the future of the Republic — are saddled with a debt of, on average, more than $30,000 when they graduate (if they graduate). I’m certainly not thankful the latest Republican tax “reformlegislation could tax graduate students’ tuition waivers as income.

I’m thankful I can vote for whomever the hell I want to without anyone telling me how to vote (or requiring me to say how I voted). But I’m not thankful for the hundreds of millions of dollars of negative political advertising, often paid for by people and organizations who do not disclose their ad spending, that tries to make me afraid of someone or something, thus seeking to influence my vote. That’s outrageous. I’m not thankful for the many ways American elections are fundamentally unfair — the outdated Electoral College, redistricting, gerrymandering, anonymous Big Donor spending, foreign nation-state meddling, Facebook and Google’s stance they aren’t “media companies” thus wittingly or unwittingly spreading “fake” election news, and the “real media” focusing on the horse race instead of doing their goddamn jobs by reporting on overlooked issues and long-term impacts of electoral choices. I’m not grateful a politician’s election to Congress has become a virtual sinecure and a semi-permanent seat among the wealthy and powerful. I’m not thankful national politicians have mastered the art of being nice human beings on camera and back-stabbing rats off camera.

Despite all this, I’m thankful to be an American. We all should be because we do, in fact, have much to be thankful for. (But someone else can draft that list, ‘cause I’m not in the mood.)

But I’m not thankful for the many ways, over time, being an American has become more costly economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. I’ve witnessed the gradual degradation of the American dream from the Eisenhower ‘50s to the Donald’s debacles of prevarications and refusal, in the past six months, to be interviewed on camera by a major American news network other than Fox. A lack of transparency by any politician defrauds us all.

So, as I park myself at the dinner table with one of my brothers, his wife, and Mom, I’ll be thankful.

But since I left college as a hippie in the ‘60s, the “thankful” list has shrunk, and the “not thankful” list is on its second ream of paper.

Eat hearty come Thursday, folks. Chow down on that tryptophan and pumpkin pie. Burp freely. Have another drink. Be merry as you will.

But come Friday, the same crap you, too, are not thankful for will still be there …

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