The occasion (this happening to be published on Thanksgiving) organically calls for an examination of that for which we profess thanks, or rather that which we ought to, as a people. It is, of course, growing ever more difficult for Americans generally to conceive of themselves as “a people,” with tribalism in its various forms wreaking its divisive havoc. No one who regularly reads a publication entitled “Colorado Politics” can remain immune to the reality of how deep the divide along political lines has grown in the last decade or so in our nation, nor how stark those philosophical differences – real or perceived – have become. Offering even nominal support of a president from the opposing party, for instance, simply out of respect for the office, may have at one time been merely a tough, but necessary and patriotic, pill to swallow; today it is virtually inconceivable.
The overwhelming majority of public discourse these days is predisposed to accentuate various points of divergence – conservative/liberal, rural/urban, black/white, pro-life/pro-choice and so on, which is unsurprising given that the degree of dissimilitude keeps increasing. Much has contributed to this – including the degradation of popular culture, the expansion of the reach and anonymity of social media, the retreat of each camp into their ideological fortresses, and the erasure of traditional moral and behavioral guidelines in society, clumsily replaced with “trigger warnings” and draconian speech codes.
Any sense of national cohesiveness is further buttressed by the inflation of identity politics, the elevation of one’s gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc., as the primary determinant of identity for any purpose, especially political. Even that has been deemed in some circles an insufficient degree of separation; the spread of the concept of “intersectionality,” the trendy dogma that assigns social sympathy in direct proportion to the number of hyphens one can add onto their description, has created something of a perverse competition to see who can claim the mantle of “most oppressed” (a black, LBGT, Muslim woman, for instance, is owed greater consideration than a black woman who is straight and Christian, or a white male who is gay and Jewish.) With that sort of self-imposed apartheid gaining official sanction, it’s no wonder we can’t come together as a nation.
But then, the very concept of “nation” appears to give offense. Patriotism is increasingly viewed as an anachronism, amusing at best, dangerous at worst. The call to eliminate border and immigration controls, or even borders altogether, gathers strength, and is reflected globally in the steady subordination of authorities which traditionally fall within the jurisdictional purview of the nation to unelected, extra-national organizations, such as the E.U. Democratic resistance to this sloughing of national sovereignty is derisively black-balled as savage nationalism – a characterization abated neither by the fact that certain elements of such movements, particularly in Europe, are indeed suborned by savage nationalists, nor by indelicate vulgarization of the issue by the president.
With all these external pressures operating in concert to actively erode the national life, it seems fair to question whether we remain justified in calling ourselves “a people.” And yet we are still a people, the one nation under God spoken of in the pledge still recited here and there. And we still have much to be thankful for.
Edmund Burke’s observation regarding the prerequisite for patriotism was that for a country to be loved it must be lovely. It is all too easy to focus on what is unlovely, or distressing, or inconvenient. It is remarkable, or should be, that the outcome of a democratic election – a political blessing unheard of in most of the world – so acutely sharpens that focus in so many. It is certainly appropriate, is it not, to pause and reflect instead on the great fortune that Providence saw fit to bestow on us.
Whatever faults may remain in this nation, and whatever ones we create for ourselves, there can be no denying the enormous benefits of our patrimony. We have inherited a political and economic system that has vouchsafed us a degree of order, freedom, and prosperity unimaginable in most places on earth and at any other time in history. It seems fitting, therefore, that a national day of Thanksgiving has been officially set aside within a few weeks of election day.
William F. Buckley once wrote, “even if we never need the help of the courts, or of the policeman, or of the Bill of Rights, that they are there for us in the event of need distinguishes our society from most others. To alert us to their presence, however dormant in our own lives, tends to ensure their survival.” That is indeed lovely, and worthy of gratitude.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.