Being Thankful or Not So Much

Today is the day that guys like me are supposed to tell you what we are thankful for. It is all supposed to be gauzy and uplifting. By now you know that I rarely do what I am supposed to do so I will tell you a few things for which I am thankful along with quite a number for which I am not.

Let’s start with the title of this story. I am thankful for not turning it into one of those dreadful listicles entitled “37 reasons for blah blah blah.” Articles with those titles are click bait designed solely to marry your eyeballs to the adjacent advertisements. If I should happen to remember in a month or so, I will put listicles on the New Year’s list of things to avoid.

I am thankful for the Pew Research Center because they try to do real polls that ask real questions. One of their most recent tells us that only 19% of Americans trust the government. The figure for Republicans is 11% and a figure for Democrats is 28%. More than 60% see a need for “very major reform” – reread those three words. So, in addition to thanking the pollster, I thank the majority for being right. I wonder if they understand that their distrust results from those on both sides who intentionally place political advantage over accomplishment.

If you are wondering why the allegedly unelectable (Trump, Carson, Sanders) are doing so well ask yourself whether their supporters are simply saying “anything other than what we are doing today.”

I am thankful for French President Hollande, who is emulating our recent secretaries of state by flying all over the world gathering support for a war on ISIS. I am not thankful for the need to fill a void left by our president who might, if it pleased his base, be leading that charge.

I have only been doing this for 4 1/2 years so I have never had the opportunity to write during an administration that I supported rather than one I generally oppose. There is nothing like a long bicycle ride to leave you alone with your thoughts and, on a recent one, I asked myself to think carefully about why I so frequently find fault with President Obama. The best answer that came to me was that he only appeared to understand a portion of his title. I don’t doubt that he understands what President means. For me, the part he misses is the last four words: “of the United States.” Playing in the endless political muck seems demeaning to me so it is hard to imagine quite why he chooses to do it so frequently. If he were concerned about his legacy (and he is), wouldn’t leadership be a part of that?

I am not thankful for the civil asset forfeiture law that permits the police to take the property of suspects for drug-related crimes without proving anything. According to recent data, police theft from citizens now exceeds the aggregate takings of America’s burglars. See the results of the trust in government poll above.

I am not thankful for our tendency to allow politicians to get away with lies. As with small children, if you can get away with something, the best strategy is to continue to do so. The strategy works two ways. The candidate can invent facts and even his own biography. When challenged he (and in this case I will add she) can safely dismiss the challenges as “old news.” Either way, the rest of us have the truth and our ability to react to it stolen from us.

I am not thankful for what we are hearing on America’s college campuses. Please note the carefully inserted words “what we are hearing.” I am extremely thankful for the vast majority of students (some of whom I met at Yale the other day) who have as much disdain for the cry bullies as we outside observers do. Instead of applying after-the-fact standards to those who are now too dead to defend themselves, why not apply these standards of perfectness to our current leaders and aspiring leaders? Which of them would then be qualified to be cast in bronze according to the standards being set for Woodrow Wilson?

By the way, we non-college students can learn a useful technique employed by the undergraduates who are not whimpering about safe spaces. Ignore the ones who are.

I would be thankful for a better group of choices of candidates to hold the office of President of the United States. My preference would be for one who understood all five words.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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6 comments

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  • Good thoughts. I’m hoping the Repub candidates narrow. Sanders has to stay in just to give Hillary someone to compete against. Sanders is certainly pushing Hillary to the left.

    • One might wish that the first voters in the primaries and caucuses were more centrist in their views rather than at the extremes. If all of New England or all of the Midwest voted together in February, the tenor of the early campaigning would be entirely different.

  • You are correct, my friend. We deparately need a President OF THE UNITED STATES…not a political flack for a few.

    I am thankful we have an election in less than a year. There is hope.

  • The next President should start a tradition of saying the following or something like it right after taking the oath of office.

    “I would like to address the first words of my presidency to the [48 49?] percent of you who did not vote for me. Please be confident that I think of myself as your President too. Though we may differ from time to time, I want to be sure that your voices are heard in the next four years. My new title is President of the United States and, to me, the last four words are as important as the first.”

    It would of course be preferable if the speaker actually meant it.

  • It saddens me to hear your criticism of a thoughtful and intelligent president unlike the previous president so ill-advised and of questionable intelligence and honesty.

    • Thank you for your comment, Betty. I am troubled by “well, mine is better than yours” partisan comparisons as they seem to propel a race to the bottom. As long as “this one” (generally the one preferred by the writer) is incrementally preferable to “that one” (generally opposed by the writer), all is allegedly well. Such a standard does not raise the bar for anyone and, at least in my view, the bar is sorely in need of raising. Are all Presidents as partisan as this one? Perhaps they are, but it seems not. Should all leaders be as partisan as this one? That is a far easier question and my answer is “not the best ones.” There is much discussion today (and properly so) about what can and can not be said about entire groups — for example, Muslims. Curiously, those who are often most critical of group blaming are gleeful at the opportunity to do exactly that to the other party. It is disappointing that the tactic is tolerated among political operatives but surely one should expect more of the holder of a leadership position.