Viewpoint: A historic Thanksgiving

Karen Rubin
Karen Rubin, Columnist

The First Thanksgiving is one of the most mythologized events in American history – on par with King Arthur and Camelot.

But Donald Trump, who shows nothing but contempt for truth and the American way, would like to erase all the bad parts of American history beginning with 1619 when the first slaves were deposited on America’s shores and sanitize what schoolchildren are taught.

Trump, in one of his parting, despotic assaults on democracy, formed a 1776 Commission to promote “patriotic education” (paid for with money from the COVID-19 relief act, no less), inspired as backlash against the protests decrying systemic racism that caused the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many more. Trump, who also banned “sensitivity training” among federal workers, would like Americans not to see, believe or act to eradicate systemic racism.

“Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that if not removed will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together,” Trump said, sounding more like Joseph Goebbels than Thomas Jefferson. “It will destroy our country.” To further justify whitewashing history, he added, “Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.”

Instead, “Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their souls.”

Trump “tried to frame the protests in response to the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of police as rioting and mayhem and, in his words, said they’re the result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools,” NPR education correspondent Cory Turner said on “Morning Edition.”

Turner added, “Basically, he argued that schools are teaching kids to hate this country by talking about the things America has gotten wrong, first and foremost slavery, instead of talking about freedom and the promise of our founding documents. He singled out The New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project as a big part of the problem. The project is being used in some classrooms to explore the legacy of slavery and present-day systemic inequities.”

The fact is, as Turner noted, “using the history that we teach our kids as a wedge issue has been happening for generations.” Indeed, quite to the contrary of teaching America’s original sin and how it has infected and infused systemic racism and injustice for 400 years, too many school systems and teachers ignore or gloss over it.

Turner pointed to a Southern Poverty Law Center report that found “many teachers and textbooks still don’t talk about slavery and its legacy, how its legacy survives and the toxic ideology of white supremacy” and pointed out that several teachers said “President Trump’s varnished version of history is still what’s being taught in many places. And that’s the problem.”

Trump declared, “Patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country. American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools.”

Trump’s rhetoric has consequences, just as it has had in inciting violence against Black Lives Matter protesters and election workers. Turner said several teachers told him “they’re now hearing the president’s angry rhetoric being repeated by parents. One teacher in Indiana sent me a link to a blog where a parent in his district complained about teachers and neighbors buying into leftist indoctrination. And the parent wrote, quote, ‘I am afraid that the only way are they going to get it is once they’re looking into the barrel of a gun’.”

That’s not all the dictator wannabe did. Under the guise of promoting unity, Trump signed an executive order to end training sessions based on race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating in the federal workforce, the uniformed services, and among federal contractors. It prohibits federal agencies as well as contractors from conducting training that promotes race stereotyping, for example, by portraying certain races as oppressors by virtue of their birth. “This damaging ideology causes great division and is rooted in misrepresentations about human nature, our history, our founding principles, and our Nation’s unique role in the world,” Trump said.

Attorney General William Barr, echoing fascists, dictators, czars and emperors, when asked if he were worried about how history would remember him for overturning the rule of law to shield his dear leader, said, “History is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who is writing the history.”

Now that Trump is emphatically not the winner (Loser!!), history will record him as the first impeached president to seek re-election, the first to lose the popular vote twice by millions of votes and history will resound with his parting shots to undermine national security: unilaterally pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty; public health: mocking mask-wearing and holding super-spreader events across the nation and polluting the White House; the economy: abandoning the millions facing poverty, hunger and homelessness; and destroying America’s standing as a champion of human rights. Nor will history forget the 25,000 (and counting) lies and the 3,400 conflicts of interest of the most corrupt, inept, malign, autocratic occupier of the Oval Office America has known.

Let’s be reminded what the First Thanksgiving really was about – half of the original colonists in the small Plymouth community had died. The Wampanoag Indians (People of the First Light), who helped them survive by teaching them farm techniques not only outnumbered the colonists but brought the feast rather than the other way around.

The essence of the Thanksgiving was to in fact give thanks for their survival. That is the message that should resound today as well. But we won’t need to wait for historians to tell us this Thanksgiving is historic.

This isn’t a normal Thanksgiving. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “This Thanksgiving is more special than most Thanksgivings…Let’s think of Thanksgiving as a time to yes, really give thanks to the people who really did phenomenal things.”

Give thanks to the people who have helped us survive: the doctors, the nurses, health workers, the essential workers and first responders, the scientists who have been working to develop vaccines and therapeutics, the neighbors who cared for one another and wore masks and elected officials and public servants who put people ahead of politics.

It is a year to give special thanks around the table and over Zoom for our family and our freedom and think about the close brushes we’ve had with the loss of both.

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