Some Americans might not see much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. After all, 48 million of our fellow citizens are on food stamps. Unemployment grinds along at 9 percent. Housing prices — the source of most people's wealth — have fallen to 2002 levels. Economic uncertainty, even fear, is spreading. And, in a most un-American thought, there is a gnawing suspicion that the next generation won't live as well as the preceding one.
Fair points all — and a humble reminder to those who are blessed that millions of our fellow Americans, tens of millions, are truly struggling this Thanksgiving. Here's to hoping for better times for them.
Call me crazy, but I think it's great that our elections take months and years to play out.
Still, there are plenty of things to be thankful for. And a few may surprise you:
We can be thankful for our messy political system. Call me crazy, but I think it's great that our elections take months and years to play out. It gives us time to thoroughly vet our candidates. In parliamentary democracies like Britain and Canada, elections are held in a matter of weeks. It seems to work for them, but think about this: In the last few months alone, Republicans pined for Sarah Palin; Michele Bachmann had her 15 minutes; Rick Perry rose and fell; Herman Cain burned bright before burning out; and now Newt Gingrich is moving up. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney chugs along, never getting more than 25 percent or so of Republican support. That the GOP goes through candidates quicker than the Kardashians do marriages is a healthy thing (for the Republicans, not the Kardashians). Each candidate is thoroughly scrutinized, put to the test in a series of debates, and made to answer difficult questions from pesky reporters. By enduring this, sometimes for years, the true measure of a candidate — his or her intelligence, character (or lack thereof), experience, strengths, and weaknesses — usually emerges. When we go to the polls next year, we'll know what we're getting. And Democrats basking in the GOP squabble this cycle had better buckle up, because they're looking at a similar free for all in 2016 — and that's great.
We can be thankful that we have the right to gather in city squares and protest and yell at the top of our lungs. The Tea Party and its left-wing lookalike, the Occupy movement, are perhaps the purest form of American democracy. It's no coincidence that the framers chose this right — to assemble (peaceably) and be heard — as the First Amendment. The hue and cry of the citizenry is not only a temperature check on the body politic, it is an essential cog in the self-correcting mechanism that has always helped the American ship of state find the best course.
Let's be thankful that our media is a patchwork quilt of loud, disagreeable people with wildly differing ideas. What's your pleasure: Fox News or MSNBC? NPR or Rush Limbaugh? The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times? There is something for every point of view. Don't trust the mainstream media or feel like you're not being heard? Fine. Start your own blog or podcast. Email your congressman. Send a tweet to the president. It has never been easier to let our opinions be known than today.
Think politics is all about big money and big corporations? That's often the perception, and in some respects, it is undeniably true. But it's also true, albeit underreported, that the little guy plays a big role as well. For example, through September 30, more than half of all donations to President Obama's re-election campaign have been for $200 or less. We can be thankful that citizens, particularly of modest means, care about their country so much that they'll part with a few of their hard-earned dollars so that they, too, can make a difference. (By contrast, only 10 percent of Mitt Romney's donations fall into this category).
We can be thankful that even in these tough times, Americans continue to have big hearts. We gave $291 billion to charity last year, 3.8 percent more than in 2009, reports CharityNavigator.org. And the vast majority of that, 73 percent, came from individuals. Americans know that no matter how difficult their personal struggles, there's always someone who has it worse.
Let's also be thankful that young Americans — our next generation of leaders — recognize the importance of public service and giving back. Applications for positions at AmeriCorps nearly tripled between 2008 and 2010, reports The New York Times; Teach for America, which puts college graduates into some of the toughest classrooms in the land, received 32 percent more applicants last year than the year before. Some of this surge can surely be attributed to America's lack of jobs. But also, "the millennial generation is a generation that is just more interested in making a difference than making a dollar," Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that advises government recruiting efforts, tells the Times.
The list of things to be thankful for is long. What about all the tremendous problems we face? Obviously, that's a long list, too. But for one day, at least, let's focus on what we have. Pass the pumpkin pie — and Happy Thanksgiving.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
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