Thanksgiving is Awesome
Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
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It’s that time of year again, when Americans celebrating Thanksgiving is a source of consternation for progressives.
As is the fashion, the holiday is taking a beating in the media. This week, readers of the left-wing publication The Nation were treated to a debate between two of its authors around the following proposition: Is Thanksgiving such an irredeemable display of noxious American jingoism that it should be abandoned altogether in favor of a new opportunity for Americans to flog themselves in an agonizing struggle session the magazine has decided to call “Truthsgiving”?
While writer and activist Sean Sherman declined to endorse the proposal, he accepted the charge that Thanksgiving itself constitutes a celebration of America’s sins—a forgivable moral lapse, though, because “aliens in a foreign land need to invent new myths and identities to provide themselves with a sense of people, purpose, and place.” Those myths retain some value, because unfortunately the descendants of the New World settlers won’t disappear tomorrow. The original colonists, however, are undeserving of our gratitude. “You want to give thanks?” Sherman asked. “Give thanks to Native nations who granted settlers some form of legitimacy—by entering into treaties recognizing them—to be in our homelands.”
Another contributor to The Nation, Chase Iron Eyes — “a proud member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota” — believes that Thanksgiving is a celebration of “colonialism, violence, and misrepresentation.” If the holiday isn’t done away with entirely, we should “decolonize it.”
The Nation is far from the only publication to have problematized Thanksgiving. “What is Thanksgiving to Indigenous people? ‘A day of mourning’” says USA Today. The Washington Post devised a clickbait headline with a healthy dose of white guilt: “This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.” The Post also came up with a climate-change take on Turkey Day menus: “What’s on the Thanksgiving table in a hotter, drier world?”
“Thanksgiving Day should be known as National Land Theft and American Genocide Day,” the Huffington Post’s Nicole Breedlove cheerfully submitted, contending that the holiday’s roots are embedded in soil soaked through with Pequot blood—which is a myth. “So when you sit down to dinner this year,” she concluded, “think about the countless Native Americans who lost their lives so you can carve a turkey and get the best deals on Black Friday.”
MSNBC kept things festive by reminding people, with regard to the now-infamous Pilgrims, that “Instead of bringing stuffing and biscuits, those settlers brought genocide and violence.”
Meanwhile, the teachers’ resource Learning for Justice advises that the folk history of this holiday that children are (or rather, were) taught in elementary school is “socially irresponsible.” They recommend educators teach Thanksgiving as a “National Day of Mourning,” citing a recommendation in a 1970 speech by the Native American activist Wamsutta Frank James. The lesson planners at ArtsAndJustice.org suggest renaming it “ThanksTaking.”
And of course you can just do away with the holiday entirely. “One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting,” University of Texas at Austin professor Robert Jensen declared.
These may read like rote examples of the self-flagellation to which progressives submit themselves every year, but as detailed in Noah Rothman’s The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back against Progressives’ War on Fun, there’s a philosophy at work here. Progressivism rose from the ashes of the Puritan experiment in Mainline Protestant New England, and it retains some vestigial totalitarian traits—as you would expect from any worldview that holds that everyone must row their oars in the same direction in order to bring about an equitable utopia.
The original Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries were hostile to holidays because observing them encouraged what Cotton Mather, among the most notable New England preachers, deemed “licentious liberty.” Such licentiousness distracts from the great labors of our time by promoting “mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming.” Today’s New Puritans object to holidays on roughly the same grounds, which is why they so routinely try to mute the enjoyment you partake in them.
That’s why the Christmas season so often features progressive publications encouraging true Kool-Aid drinkers to use family get-togethers as opportunities to preach to relatives about their moral and political shortcomings. That’s why Halloween cannot be a carefree evening surrounded by costumed kids and candy, and is instead a day that “requires thinking not just about stereotypes or discrimination but also about white supremacy,” according to the Washington Post’s Osamudia James. And that’s why Thanksgiving, in particular, deserves to be anathematized.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that puritanically inclined progressives don’t look fondly upon Thanksgiving. It celebrates the establishment of the Mayflower Compact and the Plymouth Colony organized around it, which resulted in the displacement of local Native American tribes. The holiday is also the forerunner to both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two events that celebrate unadulterated consumerism. And it was formally established by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to commemorate what were at the time the Union’s few and far between victories in the Civil War, forever associating it with reverence for the Republic and its Constitution. If you find more to criticize than celebrate in the above, you’re probably not going to see Thanksgiving as an absolute good.
All of this is a reminder that in the space of a generation America has gone from being a country brimming with over-confidence, to one whose intellectual culture has turned into an agonizing, seemingly interminable run of performative self-flagellation. But the historical self-mortification has reached new heights. There was a time not too long ago when American exceptionalism meant the country-wide belief that the U.S. was such a unique force for good in the world that everything that happened before 1776 was irrelevant. Now we’ve swung to the opposite extreme: America is such a unique evil, we’re told, that our country is the standard-bearer for the oppression of innocent peoples everywhere, so much so that human suffering before 1776 is hardly worth mentioning.
We’ve lost touch with our real story—the one about us, not the centuries-old adventures of toffs in wigs. Our Founding Fathers didn’t steal a continent from indigenous people, they stole one from a British King. The revolutionaries then drew up a document sanctifying their new country, flying flags that were comically similar to “Let’s Go Brandon” in sentiment while laughing at the horror they inspired in European aristocrats. Then, in order to secure the manpower needed for expansion, they opened their doors to the world’s rejects: castoffs, screwups, cultists, and even criminals.
The vast majority of us descended from the influx of those subsequent waves of weirdos and refugees who came from all over the globe, many of them not by choice. They happily flew their own “Let’s Go Brandon” flags and laid the foundation for the greatest, most powerful country in the world while doing a surprisingly good job of not murdering one another despite the melting pot situation they found themselves in. Even the most cursory review of American history shows that this was an insane setup, but they somehow made it work and ultimately forged the real character of America. This amazing story is what we’re really celebrating every November.
You have to reduce the American experience to a few ridiculously grim variables in order to spend Thanksgiving sulking. But that’s exactly what progressives do year after year. These people are comic-book thinkers who only understand things in binary terms, forever preoccupied with cramming people into a neat framework consisting of oppressors and oppressed. According to them, Americans should spend tomorrow performatively kicking the ball of guilt toward the ever-receding goalpost of absolution, steeping themselves in guilt and atoning for the sins of their forefathers. The fact that no one outside the progressive tribe listens to the overwrought admonitions exemplified in this post doesn’t phase the admonishers. Indeed, progressives appear to take pride in their isolation. They derive their satisfaction from making a dramatic display of their bottomless capacity for joylessness.
Whether or not to enjoy Thanksgiving shouldn’t be a hard part of the American citizen’s test. Thanksgiving is awesome. Everything about it, from the pumpkin pies to watching the Detroit Lions forced into a marquee role (they’re actually good this year, so the game will be, for once, watchable) to dealing with relatives who sincerely believe Joe Biden is the second coming of Christ, is top-hole holiday enjoyment. If nothing else, the day is about friends and family. Enjoy them, and don’t listen to the haters.