Our contentious republic is reason to give thanks
As we gather with family and friends to enjoy the bounty of this great nation and to give thanks for our personal and collective gifts, we should include our messy and contentious political system among our many blessings.
Why, some may ask, should we give thanks for a system that produced the recently completed, sometimes nasty and highly divisive national election?
Well, consider this: For the 56th time in our nation’s history, we have elected or re-elected a president without resorting to violence, coups or uprisings, as have occurred in so many countries that attempted to establish democracies.
Only once in our two and a quarter centuries of constitutional governance — in 1860 — has the election of a president led to mutiny and massive bloodshed. Even then, following four years of brutal civil war, the United States survived.
Consider also the two men representing the two major parties who competed in this year’s presidential election.
The incumbent, President Barack Obama, belongs to an ethnic group whose members were first enslaved, then — even after the Civil War abolished slavery — were terrorized and treated as second-class citizens for more than a century.
His opponent, Mitt Romney, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a religious group that was despised and marginalized for more than 100 years.
The fact these two men could battle for the most important leadership job in the country and the world is evidence that this nation is continuing — however slowly — to overcome the the prejudices that have long held back major segments of our population.
It won’t be many years, we hope, before a woman, a Hispanic or a member of another such group is elected president.
That is not to say all is wonderful in this country. Clearly, we have a multitude of serious problems — economic and social. And our bitter political divide often seems to make it impossible to craft reasonable solutions to those problems.
Then again, acrimonious disputes appear to be part of our political DNA. They began with the drafting of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, with arguments over how much power to give states and branches of the federal government.
Heck, for more than a century and a half, we couldn’t even agree on exactly when we should celebrate Thanksgiving and whether it should be a national holiday. The issue wasn’t settled until 1941, when Congress passed a resolution proclaiming the fourth Thursday in November the national day of Thanksgiving, and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it.
The Pilgrims who came to this continent in search of religious and economic freedom are credited with holding the first Thanksgiving celebration here.
But it was our constitutional political system — with all of its controversy and disputes — and our military, which has long protected our political freedom, that have allowed our nation to flourish and its citizens to continue to give thanks each year.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.