From the time I was a teenager, I understood that we are a morally compromised country. I suspect we have that in common with many countries.
Our society is built on a legacy of the twin horrors of slavery and genocide. What we invaders from Europe did to non-Europeans was unspeakable — both the non-Europeans who were already living here and the ones we imported to be our pack animals.
But I’d sort of made my peace with it because the ideal of America was something that made sense to me. This ideal includes the notion of equality, a welcoming attitude toward strangers, a society where people are treated equally, have a voice in their government, and believe in a fundamental principle of fairness and opportunity.
We didn’t always manage to achieve that ideal, but it was there as a guiding principle, so I thought it was possible to reach a moral compromise with our nation’s troubled history. As Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Yet the monstrous current inhabitant of the Whitehouse has shaken my faith in that compromise. It’s not that he is a venal narcissist, a con man, a vile bully desperate for attention. That’s unfortunate, but it’s not the problem.
It’s more that his policies reflect our ugly past rather than any hopeful future. The vicious attacks upon blacks, latinos, immigrants and others who are vulnerable — not so much the ugly words (although those are bad), but the hurtful policies.
The cabinet appointments that all read as somewhere between a bad joke and a deliberate insult, the naked attempt in this current tax bill to line the pockets of the extremely wealthy by hollowing out the middle class, the approach to healthcare that pretty much says “if you’re poor, you die.” The sheer blatant cruelty of it all.
I was able to find a way to live with our blood stained past by telling myself we are building toward a meaningful present and future. But what does Thanksgiving mean if we are moving toward defining ourselves as a nation of cruel and selfish monsters?