Editorial: Feeling Thankful? Sure…
In the wake of electing a candidate whose platform was largely based on racism, sexism and xenophobia, we look at this Thanksgiving holiday with less hope for our nation. And when we see President-elect Trump’s cabinet being filled with characters who in most other times in recent decades would be shunned because of their hateful speech toward others, short-sighted immigration policies and unbridled corporate greed, it is no wonder so many Americans fear for their safety and despair of economic and social justice.
And then there is continual unearthing of Trump’s sins — nothing new, just suddenly available after all these months of dodging the truth. In these past 10 days since the election, we have learned of tax violations committed by members connected to the Trump Foundation (perhaps Trump himself); and we learned this weekend that Trump suddenly agreed to a $25 million legal settlement for bilking more than 5,000 Americans who attended Trump University of $40 million. Trump, naturally, tweeted in another lie that he settled for “a small fraction” of the potential award, but Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times reports that Trump’s profits were estimated at $5 million, so a legal settlement of $25 million is five times what Trump made — a $20 million hit; once again, casting doubt on Trump’s business skills and reinforcing his penchant for tall tales. More importantly, the settlement is a sign that Trump faced serious legal liability. Legal scholar Christopher Peterson of the University of Utah noted that a finding against a President Trump of fraud or racketeering charges might have exposed him to the risk of impeachment. Now that is motivation to settle, and to settle for a lot.
Then, there are his tax returns, which will no doubt show Americans how he has used a litany of dodges and abuses to skate tax free for a decade or more, while putting that tax burden on middle-class Americans.
This new president is not a generous man. He’s not a nice man. He’s not a knowledgeable man. He is a conman, and he has become rich because he is good at it.
For many of us that reality of the state of our nation is a new low. Not since Sen. Joseph McCarthy have we felt so ashamed of our system. Not since Richard Nixon have we been so ashamed of a president we have elected. And, even more importantly, we are ashamed that life is so discouraging for so many Americans that they would knowingly elect a bigoted, sexist, white supremacist con artist in their desperation for change.
And yet, we are thankful that so many Americans retain hope.
While many Americans are fearful and guarded about the president-elect, they hope he is the person to upset the system and bring change. Their apparent hope is that in the wake of his destruction, the nation might right its faults and again serve the vast middle class that has been pummeled by a global economy and trade policies that seemed to have worked against them. We don’t agree with that assessment and agent of change, but we can appreciate the desire.
But as we look to the future for change, let’s also recognize and be thankful for the gains of the past.
When President Obama came to office in 2008, the nation was shedding an average of 750,000 jobs per month that November and December, and had shed 920,000 the two prior months. It took a year of aggressive stimulus to stem the tide of job losses. That’s how bad the economy was that Obama inherited from George W. Bush. We were in the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and it might have become a depression had Obama and a Democratic-controlled congress not injected $787 billion into the economy in his Recovery Act, rescuing big banks and a housing industry on the brink of collapse. In 2010, the economy was still weak but Obama proposed and got passed tax cuts to the tune of $858 billion, mostly to the lower- and middle-class income earners, not to the wealthiest 1 percent. He also bailed out the auto industry (again saving hundreds of thousands of jobs) and, for the first time in our nation’s history, he established health care as a right, not a privilege. The Affordable Care Act added 18 million Americans to health insurance policies, creating a health care apparatus that today serves 95 percent of Americans with health insurance.
Americans can also be thankful for a president who navigated difficult international waters in an era of terrorism and war in the Middle East. He got the bulk of U.S. forces out of entrenched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, resisted occupying Libya, gave orders to capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden (something George W. Bush tried to do for 7 years and failed), and negotiated a nuclear arms deal with Iran that has won high praise from America’s allies and world leaders. And, through good fortune, the nation under Obama was spared another terrorist attack and without the silly, yet alarming, code yellow-orange-and-red at airports and elsewhere that so permeated the Bush years and reminded us all of Big Brother government. For his efforts to reduce conflict in the Middle East, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
How quickly Americans forget such notable accomplishments.
Obama also presided over eight years in office without scandal one. Indeed, he and Michelle Obama and their two daughters were a model First Family, setting examples of high principle, grace and intelligence. They inspired many to be better people, better Americans. They appealed to our better angels.
For these past eight years we all can be thankful. And, of course, we can be thankful for our families and community. Yes, there is always that welcome retreat.
Yet, we must fit that local part of ourselves within a national context, and looking forward our model for behavior will not be emanating from the White House. Rather we should look inward for inspiration and leadership. As my 32-year-old nephew, Tim, recently wrote in an email to my sister: “Our country is only ever as good as the everyday people in it. The people we elect are not in charge of fixing our problems. We have to do that. We have a lot to do… A better country is only ever built from the ground up. Let’s work to include all of us in a better America — every single day, not every four years.”
I’m thankful, too, that Tim and many of his generation have such strength, foresight and the fortitude necessary to fight for America’s democratic values and ideals. Trump, after all, could become this generation’s Nixon, and his policies and his cabinet have the potential to galvanize a generation of new leaders against what Trump stands for, as Vietnam galvanized a generation more than 50 years ago.
Such zigs and zags, highs and lows, are a ragged and weary way to make progress as a nation, but it’s a ray of hope and sunshine during this time of national Thanksgiving.
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