Thanksgiving is great and all that. It’s an excuse to gorge ourselves and, nowadays, a motivation to move our satiated bodies and engage in some holiday shopping excess. Thanksgiving Day, after all, is really Black Friday Eve, an observance of materialism that has become even more important to Americans.
Thanksgiving also is a bit of a myth, at least the part about the Pilgrims making the treacherous crossing to Plymouth Rock to flee religious oppression. The truth is, they had already escaped the bonds of persecution a dozen years earlier when they moved from England to Holland, which was way more tolerant.
The truth is, these Puritans weren’t all that big on tolerance, so they finally braved the sea and came to these shores, where in addition to having the big Thanksgiving dinner, they spent much of their time crushing other religions — killing Quakers, for instance, and witches, or those they declared to be witches. So hatred in the name of faith is nothing new.
One could say that in 2015, we are having a Thanksgiving that hews to our nation’s tradition; not the stated one, mind you, which proclaims tolerance, but the ugly reality. That’s the one that nowadays rewards politicians for exploiting xenophobic discrimination against those who are Muslim.
How else can we describe Donald Trump’s suggestion that we register all those in the United States who practice Islam, the millions of them? When asked how that differs from the Nazis forcing Jews to do the same thing, he responded with some irritation, “You tell me.” OK, Donald: It really doesn’t.
Even Ben Carson thought it was a bad idea, although one should point out that he likens Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.” He’s commenting on the 10,000 the Obama administration would settle in the U.S as they flee deadly violence in their own country. Chris Christie put down the register idea, although he is on record as opposing even a “5-year-old orphan” being granted sanctuary. Add to the list Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, who believe that Muslims should be kept out, but not Christians.
And then there’s John Kasich, who makes a big deal of presenting himself as this year’s compassionate conservative. His brilliant idea is for our government to start beaming propaganda that promotes our “Judeo-Christian values.” He seems to forget that the value in this country is supposed to be plurality, with no official religions. Of course, Kasich is among the 30 or so governors who are saying that Syrian refugees are not welcome in their state.
Never mind that they don’t really have any way of enforcing their bans under the law, but it makes for good demagoguery. That same kind of fear-mongering motivated a big majority in the House of Representatives to pass legislation that would make the time-consuming vetting of those from Syria or Iraq who are trying to establish a new life here even more onerous.
All of this is the immediate result of the frightening possibility of an attack here by Islamic State fanatics who are in such a frenzy of deadly terrorism, in Paris and seemingly everywhere. Let’s face it, Americans: Notwithstanding boasting, we’re really just afraid of these maniacs. That is the explanation for the harsh attitude. But there’s more to it than that.
Muslims are merely the most current targets of what seems to be an underlying bigotry in our country. Religion becomes just another reason for spewing hatred; Catholics have suffered it, in a day gone by, and the Puritans, who we now honor, practiced it.
Thanksgiving is really a celebration of the country’s bounty, which makes it bitterly sad that we are not kind enough to share it with those modern men, women and children struggling to survive. Think of them when you’re stuffing your face.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.