Although Thanksgiving is not strictly an American holiday (some 15 other nations celebrate a “gratitude” tradition in one way or another), still, the date and circumstances of the Pilgrims’ first observation are, of course, unique to our nation. It is indeed fitting that we take a day to show appreciation for family and friends, along with all that we have. That is, at least for those of us who are fortunate enough to have family, friends, food, and roofs over our heads.
And we do very often fail to take into account that we in the United States are not alone. Our default mode seems to be to assume that we are exceptional in all ways, nothing like the rest of the world, especially the global South and East. We hold ourselves up as the icon of the best of the best, and seem to think that all other countries are somehow lesser. We say we are a bastion of democracy and human rights, discounting all other countries that are governed via representation, in whichever form that takes. We say this despite the quite visible evidence to the contrary, including the current Republican party and its attempts to hobble the voting process, along with daily tragedies like those in Kenosha, Atlanta, Ferguson, Houston, and elsewhere across the country.
In keeping with this concept of “bastion-ness,” increasingly over the last 18 months, as the U.S. focus on the Middle East has faded, various entities at the top of our food chain have begun to rattle the sabers about the threat of China. After all, not only are they Commies, they spurn human rights, and on top of that, they’re planning to take over the world. We know they are; it’s obvious. They’re going to sink our economy, they’re going to outdo us in science, they’re ready to launch widespread cyberattacks, and they’re ramping up military capacities. We’re not the United States if we don’t have dominance in every sphere, so now is the time to rev up the panic machine.
Meanwhile, a good percentage of the country would take a minute to find China on a map, and a much smaller fraction knows anything of China’s history or culture. But no worries, ’cause we’re ’Merrikans, the de facto best of all sovereign states, so we don’t need to know about anyone else. How could any other people do anything better than we do?
Snark aside, this xenophobia is growing, and it’s dangerous. Remember “Freedom fries”? A segment of the GOP coined the term because France wouldn’t back the U.S. in its invasion of Iraq in 2003. Therefore, France bad, by definition. In his Counterpunch article on November 24th, “Vigilantes on Parade: Rightwing Extremism and the Threat of National Implosion,” Anthony DiMaggio cites a recent poll by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) which found that 79% of Republicans feel that, “the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.” What, exactly, does that mean? What IS the “American way of life?” Is it a derivation of, or the progenitor of, the original Superman motto, “truth, justice, and the American way?” The motto was first heard during the Superman radio serial, but was changed to “a better tomorrow,” for comic books. Now, we’re hearing the jingoistic version brought back.
Does, “the American way,” refer to the American dream, wherein a person [a male, in most conceptions] can start with nothing and build a livelihood while acquiring a family and a house with a picket fence, all accompanied by some sort of lifelong financial stability? If that’s the case, a LOT of citizens have never experienced the American way. The bulk of those who did achieve it did so in a brief, post-World War II period, and then it largely vanished from the landscape.
If it means access to affordable healthcare, plenty of food, physical security for families and their children, again, many tens of thousands of people don’t know what that is on a daily basis.
If it means exceptionalism, white privilege, male privilege, vigilantism, gerrymandering, rule by the right-wing minority, pervasive violence, and the 10% living off the labor of the 90%, well, then, bingo! Yeah, we know what that is. Even more than the American-way meme, though, the phrase from the poll, “…protected from foreign influence,” really stuck with me. I’d guess that in the context of the survey question, it means that no other country should be able to tell the U.S. what to do, in any scenario. But in a broader. cultural sense, it’s ludicrous. If we as a society followed through with “protection” from “foreign influence,” we’d be living the lives of the First Nations. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing, by the way, in terms of environmental impact, at the very least. But since before Plymouth Rock, the area of land that would become the United States has been saturated by nothing except foreign influence. Our Constitution owes a debt to English common law and the Magna Carta, as does our bicameral legislature. The first settlers in the Northeast brought their British, Scottish, Irish, and German customs with them; those in the South brought Spanish and French traditions, along with the African culture of slaves; the Great Lakes region was once dominated by Scandinavian ways, and so on. Even more so in the present day do we feel influences from around the world in every part of the country, every day. Countless ethnic restaurant chains are only one small example. Many of our sports are adaptations of games from elsewhere. Animals and plants (horses, as just one instance) have been brought from other regions of the world. We’ve borrowed myriad scientific ideas and inventions from other nations. Our most prevalent religious beliefs stem from around the globe. In short, we have taken something from every ethnic group that has come to this country, and incorporated all of it into our society. In a very real sense, there’s no such thing as pure, unadulterated “American” anything. Except maybe our worship of firearms, but that’s nothing to brag about.