As we sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, let us recognize that as Americans we have a responsibility to helps others throughout the world who lead less fortunate lives.
Cathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and I’m aching and I don’t know why
Countin’ the cars on the New Jersey turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America, all come to look for America
Writer(s): Paul Simon, Marcos Curiel, Paul Sandoval, Noah Bernardo, Mark Daniels
Copyright: Souljah Music, Sony/ATV Harmony, Firematic Music, Paul Simon Music
I am going to celebrate Thanksgiving with my English as Second Language students, from Egypt, China and Vietnam, who have become my friends. They have come to America because our country represents individual freedom and opportunity to lead the lives they wish to lead. They have become citizens of our country by choice, not by birth.
I understand that I am a fortunate son of parents who lived through some of the toughest times in our country’s brief existence of 239 years, World War II and the Great Depression. It was during these difficult times that Americans joined together to help each other and others throughout the world. My parents sacrificed to make sure their son was given the opportunities that they had worked so hard to create and protect.
I am using two of those freedoms now in writing this column, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press, as stated in Article I of the United States Constitution.
The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected–directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.
Our forefathers gathered together to form “A More Perfect Union”. But without the courage and sacrifice of those who came to the new land to be unleashed from a repressive, non-representative government, there would be no reason to give thanks today. I’m very afraid that the current national tenor and tone is less about forming a more perfect union and more about “I’ve got mine. I don’t care if you don’t have yours.” The model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise is increasingly disregarded.
The United States has faced existential threats before: the internal conflict between the North and South, the rise and spread of Facism and Communism, the brink of nuclear war. All of these threats were overcome, but still remain. We and the rest of the world are facing two new existential threats: the radical Islamic terrorism of ISIS/DAESH and the environmental destruction of climate change. Combating both will once again require the US as the creator and leader of worldwide coalitions. However, our ability to form these coalitions requires unity at home, which has become more difficult due to oligarchic national and international political influences. The very wealthy have corrupted national politics and weakened national unity to protect their own monetary interests.
There are 353 days left until the election of a new President. The process of choosing the candidates of both parties has become increasingly vitriolic, and from the currently leading Republican candidates, hateful, divisive and increasingly non-factual. Denying science and treating the Bible as a political guide, instead of the Constitution, is dangerous because the politicians who do so are representing the interests of the oligarchy and instigating class and racial division. The concentration of wealth and its taking over national politics has become the greatest threat to American democracy and democratic principals.
The current political environment is disturbingly similar to the “Know-Nothing” period of the 1849’s – 1850’s.
The 1840s and 1850s saw an enormous increase in the numbers of European immigrants, Irish and Germans especially, arriving on American shores and settling in heavily populated urban areas. Many of these immigrants subsequently became active in local politics, much to the vexation of old-stock, “real” Americans. The result was a renaissance in the formation of “nativistic” societies—small, shadowy, anti-foreign, anti-Catholic organizations, a number of which banded together in the early 1850s to form the American Party. Popularly known as “Know-Nothings” (after the response members gave when interrogated about their pro-protestant, pro-native associations), the American Party rode a wave of xenophobia and racism (not to mention political turmoil among the Whigs and Democrats, the major parties of the day) into the mid-1850s. Among the Know-Nothing’s dubious political ideas was a call to extend the five-year naturalization period to twenty-one years, as well as a proscription against the holding of elected offices by Catholics and foreigners. Like much of the country, however, the Know-Nothings soon divided over the explosive slavery issue, and the power of the party quickly waned. Their nominee for president in 1856, former President Millard Fillmore, received just twenty-one percent popular vote and won only the state of Maryland. Still disdaining urban foreigners, most of who were Democrats, many of the nowerstwhile Know-Nothings allied with the newly formed Republican Party . by Laura M..Miller of Vanderbilt University.
Denying entry to those who are fleeing the warfare in Syria goes against American history and principles of freedom. The greatest threats to America are not from the rest of the world, but from within, the disintegration of “We, The People”. That the two leading Republican presidential candidates are throwbacks to the Know-Nothing Era should be a warning signal about the rise of xenophobia and racism in the United States.
Xenophobia and racism are not part of our birthright as Americans. As we celebrate the day representing the compassion and aid shown to the original immigrants to our country, let us give thanks for the blessing of our national birthright.
Copyright © November 2015, Michael A. Maynard, Stow, Massachusetts.
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