I have always loved Thanksgiving. It is my favorite national holiday. It reminds Americans how fortunate we are to be Americans. And it unites Americans around gratitude, the greatest human trait. Gratitude is the mother of both goodness and happiness. The ungrateful cannot be either happy or good.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I write that my mood on this Thanksgiving will not be the same as on any other I have ever experienced.
My gratitude will be marred by a dark cloud.
Not the cloud of economic crisis; Americans have lived through worse economic crises.
Not the cloud of war. America is at war in Afghanistan, and troops remain in Iraq in the war against Islamic terror; but Americans have fought far more bloody wars.
Not the cloud of politics; whatever an American’s political persuasion, every American has lived through political battles and political losses.
No, this is a new cloud. This is the cloud of “transformation.” This is what candidate Barack Obama promised; this is what President Barack Obama seeks to achieve — nothing less than the transformation of America.
But those of us who love America and its unique value system don’t want either America or its value system transformed. The former can always be improved, but should never be transformed. And the latter should always remain what it has been for centuries: the American Trinity — E Pluribus Unum, In God We Trust and Liberty — as well as limited government and individualism. It also includes an abiding belief in American exceptionalism, meaning that America has usually known better what is good for the world than any world body, that America’s moral compass is generally more accurate than that of other nations, let alone the United Nations. This is not because Americans are born better or any such nonsense, but because American values have produced a particularly uncynical, idealistic nation, more willing to die for others than any nation in recorded history.
Every element of this is being transformed, perhaps permanently. The American economy and/or its health system may be fatally damaged if either the House or Senate health care bill is passed. America will descend under a mountain of debt that may permanently undermine the power of the dollar. If this happens, America will no longer be the preeminent economic power of the world. The terrible political and human consequences of this will be felt around the globe.
The abandonment of American exceptionalism — President Obama said recently that he believes in American exceptionalism just as Brits believe in British exceptionalism and Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism — will lead to America becoming just another nation. When you no longer consider yourself special, you cease doing much that is special.
Here is the bottom line: I take nothing good for granted. That includes the future of the blessed country in which I live. A country as good as America is an aberration. There is no reason to believe that it will always remain an aberration; and those in power on Thanksgiving 2009 loathe the idea of America being different from all other nations.
Every great civilization has declined. There is nothing that guarantees America will be any different. And those in power on Thanksgiving 2009 see America more as a pompous civilization than a great one. So its decline from its self-perceived greatness is not only not a tragedy, but it’s a welcome respite from arrogance.
The idea that people should first take care of themselves, then their family, then their neighbors and then other nations is also an American aberration. The norm, advocated by those in power on Thanksgiving 2009, is to want to be taken care of by the state, have the state take care of everyone else and abandon other countries (such as Afghanistan) to their fate, just as other nations are willing to do.
As it happens, I am in Africa this Thanksgiving, volunteering with my son to distribute mosquito nets and other lifesaving necessities to the poorest of the poor in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Not coincidentally, it is an American charity (Rock of Africa) that has organized this trip. While half a world away, my heart is in America this Thanksgiving. But for the first time, it is a worried and unsettled American heart.
Nevertheless, though my mood is dark, it is not pessimistic. The very narrow victories in the House and Senate on health care reform, despite Democrats’ overwhelming majorities in both Houses, tell me that Americans are not ready to abandon the values that make our country unique. And that is something to be thankful for on this troubled Thanksgiving 2009.