When I look around the country these beautiful fall days, I am delighted with so much that is happening. Then, in the next moment, I am not so much depressed as utterly perplexed.
Take the daily — no, hourly — accusations of American racism.
On the one hand, on an everyday level, I find black and white and brown Americans mixing, laughing and loving as never before. Every single day, on the streets of Chicago or Washington, I see simple acts of kindness, fun and friendship between the races that, growing up on the South Side, I never dreamed possible. Of course, cruel, racist bigots do exist, but they are a small minority, not the majority.
Meanwhile, the enormously popular Broadway show “Hamilton,” which is coming to define this existential theatrical and social era, is not only an extraordinary literary and musical feat, it also marks a historical change, with black and brown Americans respectfully, lovingly and humorously portraying the Founding Fathers.
What a wonder to see a black Washington as the upright father; to see a brown Madison as the little guy no one listens to; and to see a biracial Jefferson, flouting his long, colored coats and his free spirits, as the American who went Parisian and never lets anyone forget it. They are all enchanting.
The point is that African-Americans, who have every historic reason to be endlessly pissed, have not only absorbed but are now celebrating our country’s origins. And this is breathtaking.
Despite this, it is the politics of the extremist fringes whose cries we hear this Thanksgiving, far from the simple, grateful harvest dinner in Plymouth nearly four centuries ago described to us by historians.
The Trumpists’ voices are ever more strident and vulgar, as the president, driven by his demons, must have eternal chaos around him, while his sophomoric insults provide his ego with sustenance. Meanwhile, the Democrats and the “progressive” left dwell close to the same decibel level, screaming about grievance — racism and sexism are only the two major complaints.
What is important — what is crucial — here is understanding that neither Trump’s hoodlum insults nor the progressives’ self-indulgent grievances are looking for answers, nor searching for resolutions; they live by conflict without end.
So how can we be a grateful nation when civic voices are dominated by recrimination and retribution, with accusations of evil and denial of evidence? And what can we, the demoralized majority in the much-maligned center, possibly do?
Our only choice is to take back the narrative, and that means gradually but persistently chipping away at the extremist messages; it means nominating moderates and electing them; it means dealing with complexity and proportionality and holding two conflicting ideas in our head at the same time (something we have not been particularly good at in recent years). It means being willing not to argue interminably but to speak out intelligently.
Above all, it means rebuilding our institutions — civic, political, educational — from the inside so they can be strong and resilient again. We can do that through our churches and synagogues, and through those special “third spaces” — civic groups such as the American Legion, the Masons, the League of Women Voters, not to speak of unions and co-ops. These are groups that have provided civic “homes” to a diverse population in a complicated country, and given them pride of place in it.
But it also means, while rejecting the thuggery and corruption of this administration, giving it credit for its productive acts and borrowing from it for middle-ground policies to put America back in the ranks of respectable nations. It means, in Michael Moore’s words, supporting not the Democrats’ “Big Mouths” but some “Beloved American,” who can rise above all the self-indulgence.
Who would you put on the list? Let’s start with Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, John Kasich and Michael Bloomberg.
The original Thanksgiving, back in 1621, brought British colonists and Wampanoag Indians together in a simple, puritan, prayerful affair, compared to the extravaganzas of food and drink we enjoy today. Perhaps this Thanksgiving, we might focus on returning to some of the original simplicity, and getting started on rebuilding our national ethos.
Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years.
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