Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Thankfulness

Creative Commons photo by Phil Denton

When Abraham Lincoln established a regular holiday for Thanksgiving in the midst of our brutal civil war, one could argue he envisioned a time where we would share a common meal and, despite the hardships we have endured over the preceding year, we would go around a table and reflect on those things for which we had to be thankful.

Unfortunately that holiday has become a twisted celebration of overeating and overbearing relatives where our main concerns are now food shaming and how not to talk about politics in polite company (the latter of which is a concern the Associated Press studied and was picked up by CNN, The Hill, and The Huffington Post, among others).

It is probably not surprising that Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” is playing as I write this, as the helicopter scene in Apocalypse Now is what comes to mind when we think of the potential impending doom that can become of the holiday gathering.

It’s easy to argue that we live in troubling times since most Americas thinking our country is headed in the wrong direction, and are not satisfied with the job President Donald Trump or Congress are doing. At the same time, the President is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice and members of Congress seem to be be accused of sexual harassment at the same rate as Hollywood producers.

To combat the problem of having nothing to discuss at dinner, CNN compiled a handy list of topics that should be safe for talking about over turkey and stuffing (or dressing depending on your Northern or Southern roots). Seeking common ground on gun control, tax reform and net neutrality made the cut.

Of course, there will be some gab about how to work off what you have put on your plate or where to get the best Black Friday deals (or your plans to avoid altogether this National Debt Holiday). Many will talk about football, which in our time zone is the Cowboys—Chargers matchup, although based on records thus far, the Minnesota—Detroit game might rightly be a better contest.

The goal is to avoid the conflict that could ensue when political tensions rise, like they did at my alma mater recently.

But to ignore politics is to bury our heads in the sand so we don’t throw shade or dinner plates at our fellow guests.

Yes, our country faces problems, but to call the President a fascist and his opposition communists is both unhelpful and untrue. Let’s see if we can clear this up. Adolf Hitler was a Fascist, Joseph Stalin was a Communist. Combined their policies were responsible (conservatively) for the deaths of as many people live in my home state of California. Any such analogies are ridiculous at best and ludicrous at worst.

And let’s look closely at the world right now. While we fret about our problems, Zimbabwe has exchanged one iron-fisted dictator (a real one, by the way, not just the leader of the party you don’t prefer, a charge we have leveled for the last three presidential terms) for another leader who people expect will be little better. The famous line from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” comes to mind (The Daily Beast must have read my mind when writing its headline).

People in North Korea are starving, dissidents in Myanmar (or Burma for those of us who like to be troublemakers) are being “ethnically cleansed” and Iran is trying a British woman on holiday for the crime of “spreading propaganda” or training journalists as Boris Johnson put it.

Comparatively we live a pretty good country. We pick our national leaders on a regularly scheduled basis and can remove them as well. Even talk of removing a president through impeachment may make the news, it doesn’t involve tanks rolling in the streets and rebel leaders laughably claiming there has not been a coup when the president is under house arrest and said military commanders have taken over the local TV station.

We have life and liberty and should be focused on pursuing a bit of Jeffersonian happiness.

And, if we can’t come together on anything else, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the guy who is going to launch himself into the sky in a DIY rocket to prove the earth is flat is probably a few sandwiches shy of a full picnic basket (and, as my wife quipped, the best argument against marijuana legalization).

But before we mock such folly, let’s step back and think about the fact that we live in a country where a man can build a rocket ship out of scrap metal with his own money and ingenuity to disprove a scientific fact we’ve held for hundred of years and has been verified time and again.

It may be trivial, but I’m pretty thankful we live in a country where we have the freedom to serious and silly in equal measure.

Talk about pursuing happiness.

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