As the holidays commence, let’s focus on what Americans have to be thankful for, as difficult as it is to take one’s mind off the news that emanates from Capitol Hill and the White House.
One good reason to celebrate is that, unlike many other nations, quite a few democracies included, in which political differences have spilled into the streets, and there turned violent—ours have been almost completely peaceful. (Charlottesville is a very troubling but rare exception). Democracies are designed so that they absorb conflicts that are engendered by ideological, social, and economic differences into institutionalized channels and negotiate them in these institutions. So far, despite the startling rise in divisiveness, even our most diehard politicians have taken to the ballot box. The Tea Party made its first gains in primaries, then in general elections, and then in caucuses in Congress. Bernie Sanders calls for a “political revolution,” but he urges his millions of followers to vote and bring others to vote, not to mount the barricades. We have no Yellow Vests like those that block traffic and burn tires in France, no blood riots of the kinds that roil Spain, Chile, Bolivia, Pakistan, Iraq, and South Africa. Hong Kong may not qualify as a full-fledged democracy, but it too lost its capacity to resolve conflicts relying on due process, while we maintained it. True, we did have to contend with a rising number of hate crimes, but even these are higher in other countries.
- The number of families who will mourn their loved ones lost in wars in the Middle East will be, thankfully, the lowest it has been in two decades. I personally see strong reasons the United States should maintain a major military presence in the Middle East and hold that it was a great mistake to abandon the Kurds. However, as a former combatant, I feel the cheers of many hundreds of thousands of service members’ families who will have their loved ones at the dinner table, rather than ambushed in Afghanistan or being shot at in Syria or Iraq.
- Good economic management has given Americans an unemployment rate that is very low, the envy of many nations. Interest rates are about as low as they can go. Inflation is well contained. Economic growth is among the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Those who have stocks in their stockings have extra reasons to celebrate. A special kudo is due to the Federal Reserve for not yielding to political pressure and for steering the economy in line with what most pros consider a solid course.
- There is a special reason to find joy in the fact that, based on data from 2017, the total number of people in state and federal prisons is lower than it has been in over ten years, allowing more people to be at home for the holidays, rather than behind bars. The special reason is the First Step Act, a federal criminal justice reform law that passed on a bipartisan basis—a rare treat indeed. The law reduced the prison sentences for thousands of people, who committed minor, nonviolent crimes such as were caught with small amounts of controlled substances.
- Much has been made in recent years over bias in the media, foreign influence, the distortion effects of social media, and censorship by Facebook, Google, and Twitter. All these are reasons for concern. Still, we can celebrate a vibrant free press, where one can switch freely between Fox News and MSNBC, read the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, draw on NPR, among many others, including these pages.
If you cannot get into the mood, I suggest you take the family, I mean the whole family, and at least one neighbor to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Have a happy, patriotic Thanksgiving.
Amitai Etzioni is a university professor and professor of international affairs at The George Washington University. His latest book, Reclaiming Patriotism, was published by the University of Virginia Press in 2019 and is available for download without charge.