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Fueled by Gratitude
Seven reasons I’m grateful this Thanksgiving week (despite everything)
Yes, there are plenty of reasons for doubt and worry about the present and what the future portends. Like many of you, I’m deeply worried about the dark forces working to end democracy, the aggressive efforts to slow-walk or deny justice, and the lack of commitment to successfully confront the climate crisis, a global problem exacerbated by those determined to spread disinformation or convince the uncertain to do nothing.
But this Thanksgiving week has gotten me thinking about how gratitude can fuel productive action. I often reflect on this spectrum between alarm and hope. My story choices inevitably pull me one direction or the other. Topics like the methodical march to undo judicial independence, fully politicize the civil service and round up millions of migrants demand hard-headed clarity and alarm ringing—especially since this is intended to fulfill one man’s sadistic hunger for retribution as he attempts to retake the White House next year.
These dangers shouldn’t be simply glossed over with hopeful desire that “maybe” it will all work out. The anti-democratic Republicans pushing this agenda are banking on such softness and the indifference of so many distracted Americans.
Yet let’s not underestimate the power of gratitude to focus our attention on the positive reasons we are in this fight. It’s these rays of light—yes, slivers sometimes hard to see—that can guide us, nurture us and give us the extra energy to avoid exhaustion.
It’s why I sometimes turn back to the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln or Frederick Douglass, for example, or spotlight inspiring words from President Joe Biden or Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries who are motivated by a commitment to democracy and American values that support emaking lives better. I always worry that if we don’t focus on fundamental values like equality, diversity and justice, we give the worst among us quarter to degrade our knowledge, doubt these values and drift into despair. That’s how they win.
So with that in mind, here are seven reasons I’m grateful this Thanksgiving week.
Joe Biden won the 2020 election with 81,284,666 votes, over 7 million more than Donald Trump. He also won the electoral college with 306 votes versus 232. That remains a North Star reminder that with significant turnout—at 66.3 percent, 2020 was the highest turnout in over a century—Democrats can overcome the party bent on ending democracy. The 2024 vote could, should and likely will be larger.
President Biden put in place a successful COVID-19 vaccine strategy that resulted in over 300 million shots in the first 150 days, saving countless lives, and he dramatically turned around an economy that was losing jobs. Biden’s economy has added over 13 million jobs, including nearly 800,000 manufacturing jobs, and tallied the lowest unemployment rate in half a century. The global phenomenon of inflation, which is a real issue for many families, is now cooling. And Biden turned the idea of infrastructure investment from a joke line under Trump into historic legislation providing billions in public investment. This has caused surging economic growth—the strongest since the 1980s—and targeted investment to cut carbon emissions and move the country toward a greener economy.
At a time of rising authoritarianism and populist demagoguery globally, the United States has a president who advocates for democracy and has worked diligently to rebuild broken alliances with other democratic nations, including his central role in strengthening and expanding of NATO. Over the next year, we can count on him to emphasize a pro-democracy agenda—and that includes support for Ukraine that remains in a brutal war with Russia. Just imagine where Ukraine would be if the malignant one was still in power, continuing his anti-American kowtowing to Vladimir Putin, sidling up to other dictators and nationalists like Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-Un and Viktor Orban or attacking U.S. intelligence agencies and democratic institutions from the Oval Office.
The abortion rights movement has become a force for change since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year by a 6-3 vote, including three justices nominated by Trump who lied during their confirmation hearings that they considered Roe settled law. This has led to terrible disruptions and dangers by stripping away women’s reproductive rights, but it has also activated voters—including in a variety of conservative states—to push back. This, like the threats facing democracy, will continue to be a powerful motivator to get out the vote. It demonstrates that Americans are not about to sacrifice the sacred will of the people to an out-of-control high court or right-wing Republicans bent on denying women reproductive freedom.
The judicial system is showing real signs that it will not let Trump act with impunity. Yes, Florida Judge Aileen Cannon has frustratingly slow-walked the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, giving every appearance she’s working for Trump’s defense team. Yet in every other case that together comprise the four indictments and 91 felony charges, the judges are aggressively pursuing their judicial responsibility. Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., seems particularly committed to not budging from a March trial date in the election interference case. (“There is a societal interest to a speedy trial,” Chutkan said.) This gives promise that the criminal defendant will not simply slide into the GOP nomination without any accountability. It remains to be seen, of course, whether his voters would stick by him even if he ends up in a jail cell.
Despite his malignant efforts, Trump is failing to whip up mass violence so far—even though a third of Republicans believe political violence may be needed to “save the country.” That’s what the “American carnage” ex-president has worked aggressively to make happen, inciting not only a climate of intimidation and fear, but a body politic where stochastic terrorism is an ongoing fact of life. But despite the vile and violent rhetoric—attacking prosecutors, judges, legal staff, democratic enemies and their families—Trump’s urgings have failed to generate a collective response. At least not yet. That may largely be the result of the methodical work of the Justice Department to charge over 1,000 criminal defendants, including a majority that have pleaded guilty and faced sentencing. This is a reminder that acting out violently to serve Trump has consequences.
It’s hard to find reasons for gratitude in the tragic Israel-Hamas war and the violence and bigotry it has spurred around the world, the insertion of a theocratic Christian nationalist who prefers “18th Century values” as the House speaker, or the efforts underway to install a fascist government in 2025 if the Republicans take back the White House. But these and other serious challenges do provide clarity about the need for thoughtful democratic leadership that is actually concerned with improving lives (not just retribution and power for its own sake).
And that reminds me how grateful I am for communities like this one, where it’s possible to trade ideas rationally, bolster our knowledge, and commit to doing what we can to make the case for democracy and justice and keep the fascists at bay.
Note: I don’t intend to publish on Friday or Saturday as I normally do, given the Thanksgiving holiday. Here’s wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving this week and an opportunity to reflect on reasons for gratitude.
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