Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate God, family, and the United States of America. It embodies what is best in the national character, combining respect for history, tradition, and community into a shared experience for the entire country.
Thanksgiving even has a kind of cultural alchemy, transmuting the base American vices of corporatism, mass entertainment, and materialism into relatively wholesome customs such as the Macy’s Parade, watching the big game as a family, and celebrating prosperity with a shared holiday feast of turkey, stuffing, and (my favorite) cranberry sauce. As symbolized in the iconic painting by Norman Rockwell, material prosperity can serve higher, healthier ends if kept in perspective. Despite all of the flaws of this deeply sick social order, Thanksgiving retains its positive essence of a fete for the precious remnants that are genuinely worthwhile.
Of course, these are dangerous times for American holidays. Christmas has already been expelled from the public sphere, with the “War on Christmas” every year growing in intensity and bitterness. Even supposed champions of the “Christian Right” like George W. Bush made sure to send out “holiday cards” even as he issued proclamations honoring Kwanzaa and its sacred conservative all-American principles like “Ujamaa” (Collective Economics). This might be for the best, as Christmas has already been utterly transformed from a celebration of heritage and faith into an ecumenical bout of gluttony from a consumerist trough of plastic junk.
The Father of Our Country no longer has a holiday honoring him, as the only American hero worthy of his own day is the great patriot Martin Luther King Jr. As for Columbus Day, parades are protested, canceled, or attacked, colleges have renamed it into “Indigenous Peoples Day,” and the only reason it even has a tentative survival is because Italian-Americans have adopted it as a symbol of identity politics.
Thanksgiving has its origins in the holy days established by the settlers at Jamestown and the men we used to call the Pilgrim Fathers after the English colonization in the 17th century. In the most famous Thanksgiving, Pilgrims (assisted by the famous Indian and Christian convert Squanto) and Wampanoag Indians joined together for a harvest feast. Days of thanksgiving were periodically proclaimed by various localities and states to celebrate harvests or military victories. In 1777, the Continental Congress proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving and prayer; George Washington would make a similar proclamation after the victory at Saratoga. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the first annual proclamation to “acknowledge the providence of Almighty God” and be “grateful for his benefits” even in the midst of war.
Even by the standards of modern multicultural insanity, an attack on Thanksgiving is far more difficult to mount than one on, say, Columbus Day. The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving, as commemorated by innumerable “pageants” at elementary schools around the country, could very well be interpreted as the kind of color blind, raceless, all American fuzziness that constitutes the official ideology of the state and its most “right wing” defenders. The America of Obama and King could well use the image of Pilgrim and Indian breaking bread together. As far as religious implications, while that ages less well, even that is a harmless ecumenical gesture of national solidarity along the lines of “In God We Trust.” The only possible objection would be to suggest that it would have been better if the Pilgrims had never come at all, and thus, if America had never existed.
Of course, this is precisely what opponents of Thanksgiving explicitly advocate. Robert Jensen is a professor who alternatively writes about “radical feminist” perspectives on pornography and speaks on the perfidy of “white privilege” to the one percent all around the country. If you are a liberal arts student, at some point you will probably pay several thousand dollars to read his book and learn about how evil you are. He writes that “moral progress” would be “the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by self-reflective collective fasting” (for you, of course, not for him.).
Dan Brook, who teaches sociology at the University of California considers Thanksgiving “celebrating genocide” of both Indians and turkeys (seriously) and takes us on a whirlwind tour of American (read “white”) racism, sexism, and classism.
Brooke Hansen, a professor of anthropology, concurs that we need to make sure children do not host evil Thanksgiving pageants, take a “deep look at the genocide that was perpetuated” against the Indians, and examine and support the “current struggles for land, sovereignty, and cultural survival” (for Indians, not whites of course.)
More of the same has been churning from anthropology, sociology, and “Native American Studies” departments for years, with it trickling down to the professional activists and busybodies, the lefty churches, and finally the 85 IQ affirmative action people tweeting about “lmaooo – the truth about thanksgiving.”
None of this will stop the celebration of the holiday in the short term. Most people live as cultural conservatives, even if they do not identify as such politically. Especially with holidays, weddings, or funerals, people fall back on archaic traditions such as giving away the bride, even if they lack the belief or rationale to justify it.
The problem is that without a defense or even explanation, the traditions that make a culture what it is and give meaning to life are always at risk from the homogenizing, deconstructing, and totalitarian instincts of the dedicated egalitarian ideologue. Therefore, the average conservative has responded to left wing attacks on Thanksgiving by ignoring or mocking them or launching a defense of Thanksgiving as a noble festival of multiculturalism or “American Exceptionalism” that is available to all people (but believed only by white conservative evangelicals).
In the long term, the public schools, multicultural affairs departments, multibillion dollar foundations, and ideological cheerleaders in the media will overwhelm any reactionary defense of even a cherished holiday tradition. After all, there was a time not long ago when Santa Claus lighting a Christmas tree was a symbol of holiday cheer, not an example of vicious bigotry. Thanksgiving will not endure forever, anymore than a Columbus Day parade, a traditional Christmas celebration, or the Republic itself.
It is perhaps the defining characteristic of conservatism that it seeks to reap the benefits of a certain social order while shying away from the means necessary to defend it. The Left, as always, understands that any concrete social order is built upon oppression, exploitation, and conquest.
Therefore, we have Robert Jensen cry out passionately in a column about a holiday centered on eating yams and sweet potato pie, “How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis?”
The conservative has only two choices. He can scoff at the charge and watch as his children are taught it as conventional wisdom. He can also simply make something up (“The Founding Fathers would be thrilled about Martin Luther King!”) or try to create a slightly less idiotic narrative about how past oppression was an unfortunate but necessary roadblock on the road to multicultural utopia.
Either way, the Right is resting on the broken staff of historical ignorance in the age of the Internet, Twitter, and Wikipedia. The result is that the Left pushes on the open door of conventional arguments about equality, oppression, and racism that are never seriously challenged. Every tradition, no matter how wholesome or universal, can be deconstructed with time.
This doesn’t mean people will immediately give up their turkey dinner any more than they will leave “Native American land.” However, it means that having ceded their moral right to their country and their property, whites can be blackmailed into ever greater concessions until they lose even the most innocent traditions and finally the country itself.
The only way to stop it is to name exactly what is being done. America was not built by Indians put here to help whites on their journey to overcome racism and Christian supremacism. It was built by the conquest of the native tribes. White pioneers tamed, through force, a savage wilderness. There is no such thing as a Native American because America did not exist until whites created it. Thanksgiving, like America itself, is a product of that conquest and that settlement. If contemporary morality tells us that we cannot even enjoy our pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, instead of disposing of Thanksgiving, we should dispose of the filthy hypocrisy of this contemporary slave morality.
Has it come to the point where such ideological extremism is necessary even to defend Thanksgiving? In a world where the American flag is banned from public schools precisely because Mexicans are attacking students that wear it, it has gone too far for there to be any other way. Slowly, haltingly, with tiny baby steps, Americans who want to enjoy the simple traditions that their fathers took for granted and their great grandfathers purchased with blood and sacrifice will have to relearn the spirit that made them the masters of North America. It seems like a steep price to pay to enjoy a can of cranberry sauce and watch the Detroit Lions lose again, but it’s also the same price that must be paid if anything worthwhile can be salvaged from American civilization for the White Republic of the future.
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