What this Thanksgiving day does to Americans… okay, this is admittedly not news, but… bear with me…
Thanksgiving. The year: 2018.
It is sort of generationally subtle. Are people more awake? Or is the slow-moving intention of this manufactured holiday taking deeper root? Is the arrival of Europeans on this continent something we should be thankful for… or who is it that is really thankful today? History is written… by the winners. So what moves into this void where history and truth are fictionalized so that no one gets offended at the dinner table…?
Most of these questions do have answers, but most of the answers are not ones most Americans here are willing to entertain, particularly in this time of rising nationalism and further ruptures and seizures within our social fabric.
Many have given in to this holiday as a kind of unofficial kick-off to the annual end-of-the-year Judeo-Christian rituals and worshipping. Of course, there is a nice quality to the season and there is often a generosity of spirit that is not present in other months, so people like to think of Thanksgiving as sort of benign and wholesome… how can anyone argue over a holiday that seems so beautifully named…?
…but the rituals are too often transparently rendered meaningless particularly when things like Black Friday are factored in and piggybacked onto the other holidays, an intentional corporate grab to get the financial ledgers into the heavy-profits “black” and out of the losing “red”. And a lot of Americans trundle willingly along. Bargains! Discounts… SALES.
It was only months after President Abraham Lincoln had slaughtered a huge amount of Native Americans that Lincoln decided to first designate a new Thanksgiving holiday in 1863 in order to cheer everyone up, in particular since “everyone” was in the middle of a massive bloody and horrifyingly brutal four-year Civil War. So… thanks.
Civil war ended. Abe got murdered. And Thanksgiving was mainstreamed and institutionalized by the early 1900’s. The mythology of its origins was added later and embellished over the years. It now seems about as accurate as a tale of an Easter “bunny” or Santa Claus, the unexplained diabetic guy in a pretty obviously “Satanic” red suit who breaks into your house in the middle of the night and has been thinking about your children ALL YEAR… but it’s all been accepted and swallowed wholesale by the American public. Yum. (photo: “The Egg”, Michael Garlington, 2009.)
The marketing of Thanksgiving, the timing and the slathering it over with football and hopeful and happy false pretenses seems to have cemented it as a holiday that is now becoming more immune to criticism. “Oh, come on! Don’t be THAT GUY,” a writer friend of mine said a few years ago to me when I spoke of Thanksgiving’s shady and insincere origins as a ploy and its phony origin story as a tale of the happy & wholesome joining of two cultures… that never happened.
But, of course, we’re talking about a country in which nothing at all lately is what it appears, even with a new era of supposed transparency. And the American government has given people little reason to trust them, 2015 representing a year in which the public has an all-time low level of faith in politicians, a lack of truth seeming to be everywhere. And you can be looked at as a party pooper or (no!) unpatriotic by some for questioning the legitimacy and relevance of Thanksgiving. (cont.)
The US has struggled with its identity for decades. Probably most famously during the McCarthy years in the 1950’s, Congress unconstitutionally decided that the US would be known as a predominantly Christian nation and enacted the P.L. 84-140 law in 1956, which resulted in the phrase “In God We Trust” being emblazoned everywhere possible, on all of our paper currency, in every courtroom, in government offices, on quite a few police squad cars… despite it not being constitutionally legal, as per the separation of church and state, and that no religion should ever be allowed to gain prominence over any other religion officially, because this country was established to avoid the religious persecution and confusion formally and formerly experienced in Europe and, of course, in the early days of this country, also. And all this also due to the little ol’ First Amendment.
Perversely, our politicians currently violate this constitutional priority repeatedly, conservative and liberal Americans, Dems & GOP alike, all of them, even a former constitutional professor, Barack Obama. And the reason is because of the spell people fall under when religion is invoked. Religion seems to be the perfect accomplice to achieve the aims of political persuasion and the tenebrous calculations of subterfuge.
Alas, the lack of cultural identity has plagued many countries in history, but in paranoid 1950s America the Cold War and the imagined threat of communism inspired this false religious fervor and the de facto, unofficial imposing of a national religion to become sort of a metaphysical fortress or… an emergency identity. Christianity.
Of course, “In God We Trust” always appeared as a very insincere and insecure move, as we now see, particularly for a self-avowed secular country that has clearly written in its constitution the perpetual separation of church and state. And again it bears repeating, that this “In God We Trust” motto is rabidly and blatantly illegal. Completely unconstitutional.
On the same token, Thanksgiving has also been a manufactured identity established during wartime in order to achieve a goal of nationalistic propaganda, a jingoistic manipulation to rally the patriotic pride and blind confidence in order to feel there was a common goal and a common purpose.
And Thanksgiving Day, exactly like “In God We Trust”, also was based on false presumptions about historical context, Thanksgiving even going so far into fiction as to claim to represent some kind of bond or treaty with Native Americans… and there never was a cultural bond; there has only been broken treaties, genocide, marginalization and ostracization of Native Americans by the heavily and predominantly European white Judeo-Christian establishment. Native Americans were lied to, tricked, murdered in their sleep, and then dumped on reservations, given shipments of whiskey to alcoholize them and weaken them. And no real reparations have ever been made. No thanks there. None.
Native American spiritual ceremonies were even outlawed by this same US government, also… even despite the First Amendment protection of religious liberties for any and all spiritual beliefs, the sworn pledge of the American court system, the oath of all of America’s politicians and police… and the guarantee of America’s Constitution.
Of course, in 1956 “In God We Trust” replaced the original national motto “E Pluribus Unum” which was established in 1782 … translated as “out of many, one”, which of course sounds much more inclusive and far more neutral than the patently and explicitly Christian “In God We Trust”.
Use of the motto “In God We Trust” has its original roots in the Civil War, with the Union side, the North, employing it first, and not the Confederate side, the South, it should be noted. Ironic… considering the state of… yeah, those current crazy religiously fundamentalist right-wing politicians from the South known for… racism, lack of generosity, fear, loathing, more racism, war, corruption… not too many purportedly Christian values in there too heavily… you noticed.
Even president Teddy Roosevelt considered it a sacrilege to put the phrase “In God We Trust” on money because he saw money and God as having entirely nothing to do with one another. Not a hard leap to make considering the supposed acidic contempt that Jesus had for money and money lenders and usury.
What exactly do pilgrims and Thanksgiving have to do with one another?
The answer is nothing.
And the Thanksgiving holiday has roughly as much history and validity as Valentine’s Day or Groundhog Day.
But as a holiday it is probably a lot closer in its formation to the political propaganda of Presidents Day. Thanksgiving was politically motivated and then marketed and packaged for a secular society that did not really know who it was. It is probably very true that we had no real national identity in those times. So when a national identity was built out of whole cloth and tales that were about as fictional as the Bible… it’s no surprise that the social fabric is fraying quite a bit and the repressed monsters are rising to the surface. All this fake history could very easily have been science fiction or fantasy. (cont.)
But that not knowing who we were really are has just represented the true diversity of this country, in many ways. And in that diversity is room for much more than cynical political propaganda. Native Americans don’t like this holiday, nor do many other Americans who don’t entirely enjoy being sort of compelled to spend the weekend with ornery or cranky family members and it seems to be mainly those who have stopped questioning and have given up on the harder thoughts and the difficulty of the holiday’s contradictions that look the other way, gorge themselves on industrial-strength American food, and watch football until their eyes are glazed and the beer buzz is making everything else go away.
But at least there’s another day or two off in the year. And that’s something we can absolutely agree on. More time off. And maybe we can have those days off commemorating something that exists in Reality. So now on to the important business of Reality…