What are we thankful for in this dark and turbulent year?
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and implored “the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it … to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.” The following year, which would be his last, he gave thanks for the “fortitude, courage, and resolution” that gave us “reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions.”
In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt called on all Americans to give thanks “for the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction” and “for the unity of spirit which has kept our Nation strong …”
In 1963, President John Kennedy, shortly before his death, issued a proclamation urging us to give thanks “for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers” — for their “decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will …”
Unlike those other times, we’re not engaged in any great war, either hot or cold. We’re not threatened with destruction, in any real sense. But we do face our own dangers and afflictions.
The merciless virus has taken well over a quarter of a million American lives this year, and is getting worse, not better. Millions of us have lost someone close. Millions more have lost their jobs or their businesses, or have good reason to fear the worst. Many don’t know what they’ll do when the next rent or mortgage payment comes due. More children than not are doing “remote learning,” which is, at best, a poor substitute for being in school.
The government did pass a huge aid bill during the summer, but since then there’s been gridlock, so the federal cupboard is now bare.
What we don’t have, at least not in adequate supply, are the harmony cited by Lincoln or the unity of spirit mentioned by Roosevelt. After one of the ugliest presidential elections in history, we have a president who’s either unwilling or unable to accept his clear defeat and trying various dodges to hold on to power, which puts a smooth transition in doubt for the first time.
Fortunately, we had the highest voter turnout ever, making the people’s verdict even more clear. Unfortunately, the incumbent seems determined to keep his supporters riled up, for reasons that are not yet entirely clear.
The question is, will we have the necessary “fortitude, courage, and resolution,” cited above, and the “strength of will” to see us through the biological, economic and political crises we face?
Of course we will. Grim as the situation now seems, just look at our history. The republic held together through the Civil War, our bloodiest conflict ever. American economic power played a huge part in winning World War II and rebuilding Europe. And some kind of “steadfastness and resolve” saw us through the decades of the Cold War without turning it hot.
And here we are, as 2020 winds down. New vaccines and new treatments are on the way to stopping COVID-19, through a heroic public-private effort; and people seem to be learning (though ever so slowly) that in the meantime there are masks to wear and social distance to be kept; and through our traditional “decency of purpose” we have reason to expect that our leaders will come to grips with the economy and, in time, sort out their differences.
This has been a bad year, no doubt about it, and no new administration in Washington is going to wave a magic wand and make things all better. But our 244 years of democratic tradition will sort out the political situation, in time, and science is dealing with the virus. For those things we can certainly be thankful.
Which leaves the economy as the darkest cloud looming over this gloomy year. Families are hurting, small businesses are failing. But this country found a way to drag itself out of the Great Depression, when the average family income dropped by 40 percent; and this country was able to deal with the collapse of 2008, when even giant General Motors went bankrupt; and this country was able to come up with a huge aid package this year, when unemployment peaked at 16 percent.
So there’s every reason to hope and believe that we’ll also find an effective treatment for the present economic crisis. We never lost hope through great wars and the Great Depression — as many of our elders who are still with us can testify — and our history strongly suggests that we need not lose hope now.
Let us be thankful that we have some solid reasons to hope that the coming year will be a better one.