Americans have officially celebrated Thanksgiving Day since 1863, and together with Christmas and the New Year, is a part of the broader holiday season. Many Americans envision Thanksgiving as a time of feasting and family gatherings replete with roast turkey and football games followed by the biggest shopping day leading up to Christmas. It is true that many people need a special day to express appreciation for their good fortune and prosperity, but if they are privileged enough to luxuriate with family and friends in a day of feasting, they probably do not understand the meaning of gratitude. It is tragically sad that for nearly 50 million Americans living below the poverty level, Thanksgiving is just another struggle to provide food and shelter for their families and a reminder that the next day will bring the same struggle to survive; much less making Christmas shopping decisions.
The media and big business have transformed a day of thanks into a wildly popular commercial season that purports all Americans share wealth and prosperity that allows them to relish the American dream. The narrative that every American spends Thanksgiving in gluttonous comfort is fallacious at best and perpetuates the myth that America’s exceptionalism means every household has myriad reasons to be grateful for the bounty of being an American. The miserable truth is that every day more Americans are falling into poverty and despair with flagging hopes of ever achieving the “American Dream” and are fortunate to find a food bank or gospel mission charitable enough to provide them with a cafeteria-style turkey dinner.
It is getting incredibly difficult for a majority of Americans to find reasons to be thankful for anything in America much less a commercially-oriented holiday. Republican policies that indulge the wealthy while cutting programs and services for the poor and middle class have made life tenuous and insufferable for millions of Americans who are grateful to make it through another day feeding and housing their family. It is incomprehensible that in the wealthiest nation in world history, one in six Americans never know from one day to the next if they will be able to provide food for their children during weekends and school holidays, but that is the reality 49.1 million Americans face every day.
Conservatives are prone to blame poverty on lazy Americans who prefer being on the dole and depriving the wealthy their precious tax cuts than having a living-wage job, but when offered the opportunity to provide jobs, Republicans demure because their allegiance to the wealthy supersedes any semblance of humanity. There are many conservatives who decry the poor are suffering at all and in fact, the Heritage Foundation had the audacity to claim poverty-level Americans lived opulently because most had microwave ovens; the truth is the poor are indeed fortunate if they have the security of housing and daily sustenance. House Speaker John Boehner made an impassioned speech that America had an obligation to support the poor and then voted to slash funding for food, housing, and healthcare programs for seniors and children.
Perhaps the only reason many Americans have to be grateful is that they are not yet living below the federal poverty level ($22,500 for a family of four), and yet any American who is not wealthy is an injury, illness, or job loss away from joining the ranks of the poor. Republicans assert that corporations are uncertain of making profits if they have to pay taxes, but they ignore the uncertainty of Americans who never know where their next meal comes from, and the media spends their time promoting the holiday shopping season instead of exposing the depth of poverty in the richest country in the world. Apparently if Republicans deny poverty in America, it doesn’t exist.
To be fair, there are reasons to be grateful on Thanksgiving, but they are diminished knowing that millions of Americans will be hungry while most people are practicing gluttony and preparing to bolster the bottom line of retail giants like Wal-Mart and the local mall. For some Americans, thinking about the plight of the poor is depressing on Thanksgiving, and maybe compassion for the poor is the price of being a secular humanist, but America is in need of compassion now more than ever. Feasting takes on new meaning when considering a neighbor, elderly relative, or total stranger have no idea where their next meal will come from. All the while, conservatives enrich the wealthy with savings from Draconian cuts to programs that may give the poor a reason to be thankful and to make matters worse, they are stuck wallowing in poverty because Republicans blocked a 0.7% tax increase for the wealthy that would create jobs and help lift them out of their destitute conditions.
On this Thanksgiving, while feasting and reveling in good fortune, take time to remember that 50 million Americans will be thankful to have a meal at all. Remind yourself that because of Republican policies, this may be the last Thanksgiving you can afford that big turkey dinner and Black Friday shopping spree. Most of all, be thankful that this Thanksgiving you have a home and food because at the rate Republicans are going, it may well be your last. Bon appétit!