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On being thankful for America at Thanksgiving

What is worth giving thanks for in America — what demands our gratitude and our prayers of thanksgiving — is that the United States has built-in resources of renewal, as it has shown time and time again

(Image of U.S. map: Morgan Lane/Unsplash.com; Thanksgiving image: Joanna Kosinska/Unsplash.com)

This Thanksgiving, no one living in the United States should be anything but profoundly grateful for the privilege of living in this country. No one.

That’s not necessarily a popular sentiment today. The country is amidst one of its periodic spasms of self-flagellation, amplified by political hucksters and charlatans of right and left (nothing new) and by social media demagogy (something new and ominous). And no doubt there’s a lot to ponder, and repent of, in the American past and present.

But that’s true of every human society and will be until the end of time. What is worth giving thanks for in America — what demands our gratitude and our prayers of thanksgiving — is that the United States has built-in resources of renewal, as it has shown time and time again.

This Thanksgiving, think of the American story as an epic of ever-expanding inclusion: a country of flawed human beings that nonetheless strives, generation after generation, to give real effect to its birth certificate’s assertion that all human beings are created equal. Concretizing that credal affirmation has never been easy. Irish and German immigrants had to fight for inclusion, as, later, did the Italians, Jews, and Slavs. To vindicate human equality against the ancient practice of chattel slavery, Americans fought a civil war that cost three quarters of a million lives. Women were enfranchised by the 19th Amendment, the great civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964 and 1965 were passed, and the physically handicapped afforded easier access to public spaces by federal law. Each of our national achievements in widening the circle of common care and concern involved struggle. But inclusion won, time and again. And the victories helped create a society that few want to leave (including those who constantly decry it) but millions want to join.

Sadly, there was one moment of drastic inversion in this historical process of expanding the boundaries of the American community of the commonly protected. That was the Supreme Court’s odious 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, which summarily declared an entire class of human beings, the unborn, outside the circle of common care and concern. So we should pray, at Thanksgiving 2021, that the Supreme Court will consign Roe v. Wade to the dustbin of history next year when it decides Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Then, as over the past half-century since Roe, it will be our obligation to provide ever more effective service to women in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children. By doing so, we will demonstrate yet again that those who take seriously the right to life celebrated in the Declaration of Independence believe that All Lives Matter — and act on that belief, thereby expanding the circle of mutual protection in America.

There is nothing more American than musical theater, and its 20th century masters, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, are worth revisiting at any time — but perhaps especially at Thanksgiving 2021. For as Peter Tonguette points out in the December First Things, songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon provide a nicely subversive riposte to the America-haters among us today. Written in the late 1940s, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific, is a well-crafted answer to the now-ubiquitous claims that racial prejudice is built into the human condition, and especially the American experience. No, Lieutenant Cable sings, prejudice is a behavior we learn, as the easy, innocent friendships among children of different races and ethnicities confirm. Are Americans a rootless people, so soaked in the dissipating juices of change and endless movement that we belong nowhere? That’s not what they sing in Oklahoma!, when the chorus exults, “We know we belong to the land/And the land we belong to is grand.”

And then there’s that paean to faith from Carousel: “When you walk through a storm/Hold your head up high/And don’t be afraid of the dark./At the end of a storm/There’s a golden sky/And the sweet silver song of a lark./Walk on through the wind/ Walk on through the rain/Though your dreams be tossed and blown./Walk on, walk on/With hope in your heart/ And you’ll never walk alone./You’ll never walk alone.”

At Thanksgiving 2021, America should rediscover hope in its heart. Doing so is not fantasy, nor is it something unnatural to us as a people. A hopeful heart is a truly American heart. Because as the Declaration of Independence affirms, we never walk alone, but in the care of the God who gave us life and liberty at the same time.


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About George Weigel 365 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

3 Comments

  1. We read: “Then, as over the past half-century since Roe, it will be our obligation to provide ever more effective service to women in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children.”

    Yes, yes and yes. But the problem is that the more help that is given to crisis pregnancies, the more crisis pregnancies there will be. How, then, to avoid this circularity, so well demonstrated by President Johnson’s Great Society which basically destroyed family cohesion, especially for Black families even more so than for others.

    Prior to the 1960s the overall illegitimacy rate in the United States was in the low single digits. After the 1960s and so-called sexual revolution, even in mid-decade, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in his book-length Moynihan Report (1965), told the changing story. He wrote:

    “[F]rom the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: a community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, disorder. . . are not only to be expected, they are very near to inevitable.”

    How to undo the demolition-squad 1960s and much that came before? Surely the January 6 Commission, a model of statesmanship, will report the layers of needed new policies and public funding. Or even the Church’s Synod on Synodality, if its workbook of inclusion is ever amended to at least mention “families.”

  2. Being optimistic and positive can certainly be good traits. I would not argue with the phrase, “Being born in the United States is to have won the lottery of life.” But to some extent that is in comparison to other countries. We also have to be realistic.
    Mr. Weigel says that “there was one moment of inversion” in what he regards as positive developments in the United States. But, we also have had our country’s legalization of same sex “marriage.” We have laws recognizing your gender as whatever you want it to be, and thus school restrooms and showers being used by both sexes. Our once proud military is going in the tank. The pentagon says that climate change is on a par with China as a military concern. This while China eyes Taiwan aggressively, and Russia eyes Eastern Ukraine. The Marine Corps, where I spent five proud years in the mid and late 1960’s, is advertising for a diversity and inclusion manager ($144,00/yr). I would not recommend any of my grandsons to enter the military today.
    I also hope and pray for an overturning of Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, a couple of the new justices that we had high hopes for have turned out to be somewhat disappointing so far.
    I don’t wish to be too critical of Mr. Weigel. I have enjoyed some of his writings, going back to his book “Tranquillitis Ordinis.” But, at times he seems to be living in a world divorced from the rest or us.
    I cannot vouch for the truth of this quote, but I once read that Thomas Merton said sometime in the 1960’s that history could be divided into three parts – the pre-christian, the christian, and the post-christian, and that we were now in the third era, the post christian. If true in the 60’s, how much more so today.

  3. I hate to say it but America is the worst developed nation you can be born in if you have a disability. And no I’m not a Marxist. Not in the slightest. I have Asperger syndrome which is a form of autism and is mild if you grow up in a stable loving family but if you grow up in a broken family it’s quite severe both of my parents were unable to care for me as a child so I had to be raised by an abusive uncle who put me on pharmaceuticals with horrible side effects and eventually threw me away like a literal piece of trash and left me to die when the pharmaceuticals did not have the desired side effects these pharmaceuticals left me horribly disabled and unable to hold a full-time job and yet I keep getting denied disability benefits even though anyone with two working brain cells knows I qualify based on my medical records the judge always finds a reason to deny me benefits even when I have the help of an attorney. In South Korea anyone with a disability collects a check from the government each month even if it’s mild though the more severe the disability the more money you collect while in America if you’re disabled you have to apply over and over again and be denied over and over again for years before you finally get disability if you manage to not starve to death and be homeless we treat livestock better than we treat people with disabilities in America and I really do wish I had been born in South Korea because of course an American is not going to get the benefits The disabled South Koreans get I have nothing but contempt for a nation that does everything in its power to keep its disabled citizens from getting the help they need

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