Among the blessings for which I was grateful last week: I did not sit down for Thanksgiving dinner with Charles Blow.
If you’ve never heard of Charles Blow, that, too, may be a blessing. But since I’ve opened this door, I’m obliged to inform you: He’s a columnist for The New York Times which means he’s among the highest-paid opinion writers in America. His Nov. 27 contribution to the national discourse was headlined “The Horrible History of Thanksgiving.”
“When I was a child, Thanksgiving was simple,” he reminisced. But when he became a man, he put away childish narratives, realizing that, “Like so much of American history, the story has had its least attractive features winnow (sic) away — white people have been centered in the narrative and all atrocity has been politely papered over. So, let us correct that.”
How helpful of him (or them). Actually, however, among those who “always blame America first” — a phrase used 35 years ago by Jeane Kirkpatrick, a disillusioned Democrat recruited by President Reagan — decrying Thanksgiving has long been de rigueur.
For example, Ariel Gold, co-director of Code Pink, a “women-led grassroots organization” that claims it is “working to end U.S. wars and militarism,” last week tweeted: “So depressing today to see Hong Kong protestors waving American flags. America (& Thanksgiving) stand for: Settler colonialism; Whitewashing genocide; ethnic cleansing; slavery; Capitalism on steroids; Endless wars & militarism; Support for repressive murderous, regimes.”
As such comments indicate, those who habitually rain on Thanksgiving parades regard America as exceptional only in its malevolence. They prefer national shame to national pride. They fail to see the value of a day devoted to gratitude — for family, friends and the men and women who defend us from those who hate and menace us.
The United States is not utopia and never will be. The Founders were realistic: Their goal was not to design a system of governance that would eliminate conflicts, but one that might encourage them to be settled without recourse to violence.
We the American people have made errors and committed sins. Nevertheless, this nation has always sought to overcome, while providing more freedom and opportunity to more individuals — of every race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, whatever — than any other country in the world.
If we argue over immigration, that’s because so many people from so many corners of the world want to live and raise their children in this Land of the Possible. Mr. Blow and Ms. Gold must think such people are stupid.
Something else the blame-America-first crowd doesn’t get — the fallacy of presentism, the anachronistic projection of contemporary morals and values on the past. It’s ludicrous to ask: How could those damn Puritans fail to support gender fluidity and oppose toxic masculinity? And, curiously, you never hear such criticisms leveled against, say, Native American peoples.
The New York Times, Mr. Blow’s employer, is now engaged in a campaign that has nothing to do with news. The 1619 Project, the paper’s editors have announced, “aims to reframe the country’s history,” to convince us that the “true founding” of the American nation was not 1776, but 1619, the year slaves were first brought to these shores.
A pertinent fact noted by eminent historian Bernard Lewis 30 years ago: The institution of slavery “existed in all the ancient civilizations of Asia, Africa, Europe, and pre-Colombian America. It had been accepted and even endorsed by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as other religions of the world.”
The idea that slavery was immoral and must be abolished was revolutionary. Its earliest champions were white, European, Christian men such as George Fox, founder of the Quaker faith, and William Wilberforce, an evangelical whose efforts led to Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 which freed more than 800,000 enslaved Africans in the Caribbean and South America.
In the United States, it would require the most lethal conflict in our history to achieve the “ultimate extinction” of what some had long maintained was a right to “property in humans.” And it was in the midst of that bloody Civil War that Lincoln inaugurated America’s national day of Thanksgiving.
In the Middle East, slavery was not outlawed until after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and caliphate which, over centuries, had enslaved millions — both Africans and Europeans. In Yemen and Saudi Arabia, slavery became illegal only in 1962; in Mauritania not until 1980. Even today, there are countries where men, women and children remain enslaved.
The frequently heard claim that slaves were treated much better in Islamic lands than in the United States should be regarded with skepticism. Imagine — or research — what it meant to be a forced laborer in the salt mines of the Sahara.
Lewis also wrote: “There is nothing in the Arab, Persian, and Turkish lands that resembles the great black and mulatto populations of North and South America. One reason is obviously the high proportion of eunuchs among black males entering the Islamic lands. Another is the high death rate and low birth rate among black slaves in North Africa and the Middle East.”
Mr. Blow ends his column by calling most of his fellow Americans “blissfully blind” about their nation’s “bloodier side.” He adds: “I can no longer abide that.”
Perhaps, were Mr. Blow not blissfully blind about the world beyond America’s borders, he’d have less horrible Thanksgivings. He may not like my saying that, but he will have to abide it. America is still a free country, a blessing for which I am most thankful.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.