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If your grandparents or great-grandparents were living in Mississippi, Colorado or Texas in 1939 (like two of mine were), they may have celebrated Thanksgiving twice, thanks to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s effort to bail out struggling retailers by moving Thanksgiving up a week – thus extending the holiday shopping season.
Republicans mocked it as “Franksgiving”, and it was a hotly divisive issue, cleaving Americans living in states who supported FDR’s New Deal from those who didn’t. But in three states (see above), they just went ahead and celebrated twice, perhaps implicitly acknowledging, with that extra pie, that there’s no one way to get through tough times – and sometimes there’s enough gratitude to go around.
For a lot of us, that’s a hard feeling to share at a time when food lines go on for miles and too many chairs at the dinner table lie empty.
Those empty chairs were on the minds of President-elect Joe Biden and incoming first lady Jill Biden, “for the loved one who can’t travel or the parent stationed overseas…for your sister or brother just across town – staying away to protect everyone during this pandemic,” they wrote. “For the families of the Americans lost this year, that chair is another reminder that someone they love will never come home again.”
Even though this Thanksgiving was different from others, the Bidens reflected on their most important tradition – “taking a moment to count the many reasons we have to be grateful” – and thanked frontline workers, health care workers, educators, parents, researchers and scientists who have helped the country survive. “We are grateful,” they wrote, “for the faith and trust we have been given to continue serving this beautiful, brave, complicated nation as your future president and first lady. This year of loss has revealed our collective strength. It has shown us that our lives are connected in ways unseen – that we can be apart without being alone.”
Michael D’Antonio, reacting to the Washington Post report that Donald Trump is considering a campaign to retake the Oval Office in 2024, opined that the “smart money would bet that Trump will at least gesture toward 2024 sometime soon.” Why? Poll numbers, plus “the frame of mind reflected in his refusal to concede his 2020 defeat and his devotion to the wild notion that he was somehow cheated out of a second term.”
Trump’s appearance Thursday to give a Thanksgiving address and take press questions set the internet abuzz over the size of his small desk (cue the memes), but the prospect of what Trump will do next looms large.
Of all the possibilities under the sun, warned Nicole Hemmer, there’s one America can do without: a Donald Trump memoir. Former President Barack Obama’s just-published “A Promised Land” sold more copies in its first week than any other book in the publisher’s history (besting previous presidential memoirs in the process). But history and the rise of right-wing media should give publishers pause about fulfilling this particular rite of ex-presidential passage for his successor, she wrote: “For President Trump, who has provided a nonstop string of commentary on his presidency from Day One, a presidential memoir could represent something different: a chance to give his insults and untruths an appearance of sanction and formality that they have never had.” Let’s not do this, she urged, and remember instead the role publishers, bookstores, universities, newspapers and communities have in rebuilding liberal democracy.
Another sharp perspective:
Elliot Williams: We shouldn’t be surprised that Trump pardoned Flynn. But we can still be disgusted
Even as the toll of the pandemic and its economic consequences grow worse, it’s still fair to believe the worst may soon be over. So wrote Frida Ghitis about the optimism she feels as the Trump administration draws to a close. “American democracy has just survived what is arguably the most vicious attack it has ever faced,” she says. “What could be a greater cause for optimism about the future?”
Biden and Harris should start work on that future by taking on issues of gender, racial and class equity, asserted Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who, reflecting on Trump’s presidency, noted that hypermasculinity and misogyny lie at the heart of any strongman’s exercise of power. “Understanding that truth is key to a successful transition to a Biden-Harris administration,” she wrote – and addressing it is equally key to healing from Trump’s strongman tactics.
Next steps won’t be easy for the incoming Biden-Harris administration, cautioned Uri Friedman for The Atlantic: “Trump’s attack on the election wasn’t and isn’t a sideshow. As far as American democracy is concerned, this is the main show. A democracy at grave risk one day cannot be pronounced healthy the next.”
And this, Peter Bergen advised, poses particular challenges for Biden’s national security team, which is facing “an ocean of troubles. The world is in many ways a more dangerous place than when Donald Trump took office.” Citing the “scary backdrop” of North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and China – not to mention the pandemic and climate change – Bergen affirmed that the six experienced people Biden “has chosen to fill key national security and foreign policy posts reflect his wish to restore order and to value competence and experience.”
Alexandra DeSanctis, writing for the National Review, predicted that progressive Democrats seem “primed for disappointment after disappointment” as Biden’s cabinet takes shape. “The incoming administration and Congress appear to be gearing up for four years of fairly standard left-wing fare,” DeSanctis assessed, adding that Biden’s cohort “thus far looks like it will be a rehash of the cabinet we witnessed during eight years of the Obama-Biden administration.”
Even as the transition continues, Rep. Sean Casten and nine other Democratic members of Congress raised an alarm about this administration’s past, particularly the need to preserve it by adhering to the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act. Given the pattern of obfuscation and flouting of norms by Trump and his senior officials, federal employees must be particularly vigilant in following all laws and preserving all documents during this presidential transition, they wrote: “And here we would like to address the employees of federal agencies who have been forced to bear silent witness to malfeasance over the past four years: We thank you for your service. We have your back.”
More smart takes:
SE Cupp and Van Jones: To the Republicans telling the truth, thank you. This was one of the smoothest elections ever
Samantha Vinograd: Avril Haines’ appointment will make America – and the world – safer
Elie Honig: Trump’s bizarro-world ‘elite strike force’ legal challenge is about to implode
An America of obscene contrasts
The tension between gratitude and grief wasn’t the only contrast shaping America this week. The Dow’s surge above 30,000, juxtaposed against the seemingly endless lines of Americans waiting at food banks and for Covid tests, appallingly illustrated the widening economic gulf in this country. Jill Filipovic asked: Is this the kind of American “greatness” Trump promised? Americans are hungry, sick and isolated, she wrote, which is “not just the sign of a cruelly individualistic society” but “wholly unnecessary in an incredibly prosperous one. The pandemic didn’t create American suffering, but it has pushed millions of families over the edge all at once. And our government is largely missing in action.”
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, took preemptive action against local governments in its late-night 5-4 ruling on Wednesday rejecting New York state’s decision to limit numbers at religious gatherings (a restriction that had been in place when cases were at their worst but was currently not in effect).
The implications will be immense and will likely echo in communities across the country, said Jeffrey D. Sachs, who argued: “The problem is that the scientifically illiterate majority on the court missed the entire point of the restriction on religious services.” Austin Sarat and Dennis Aftergut warned further that the ruling bodes ill for LGBTQ Americans and the fate of same-sex marriage before the nation’s highest court. Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s decisive role in the court’s opinion, wrote Henry Olsen for the Washington Post, showed how right religious liberty advocates were to be excited about her accession to the court.
Another important read:
Tracey D. Brown and Dr. Robert Gabbay: The 34 million Americans who should be among the first to access a Covid vaccine
Are you ok?
The pandemic has brought death into our daily lives – so much so, according to author and former hospice chaplain Kerry Egan that we are living in “hospice world,” which she defines as “a community…in which we are all acutely aware of our own and each others’ mortality.” Egan wrote that this “upending of life as we once knew it demands that we find a way through all the changes and losses” – that we all find a way to make meaning and tell the story of this pandemic, and listen to others as they tell theirs.
This can take many forms. Some of the families from across the United States who are confronting a holiday season without a loved one shared their stories with the CNN Digital Video Team. You can listen to them here.
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Listening can also take the form of a question, as Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex wrote wrenchingly for the New York Times: Are you OK? When a journalist asked her that last year, it triggered an honest response about the challenges of new motherhood in the public eye. After she suffered a miscarriage in July – during the pandemic – and as she grappled with the ravages of that loss, the question returned to her. How can we heal? What can we do now? Meghan suggests: “Let us commit to asking others, ‘Are you OK?’ As much as we may disagree, as physically distanced as we may be, the truth is that we are more connected than ever because of all we have individually and collectively endured this year.”
Coping mechanisms are more than that
One window into how Americans are struggling to cope with the weight of uncertainty and stress – high rates of dog adoptions and puppy purchase during the pandemic – have found a parallel in the excitement over the two furriest members of the transition team: the Bidens’ dogs, Major and Champ. The return of dogs to the White House feels magnificently American, observed Alexandra Horowitz, who described the dogs as “a stand-in for our national sentiment…For the last four years the White House has not had the slobbery, shedding, panting presence of a dog that it so often has. Until the Trump administration, the last time the White House didn’t have a resident dog was during William McKinley’s presidency from 1897 to 1901.”
While real-life animals are giving us national optimism (and necessary cuddles), some non-humanoid creatures – the kind we binge-watch to get by – deserve a bit more compassion, noted Sara Stewart. A confirmed lover of all things “Star Wars,” Stewart contended of “The Mandalorian”: “We could all use a little Baby Yoda in our lives again….But you know what would make it better? If protagonist Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) could maybe stop traveling to different planets, meeting large exotic animals and slaughtering them.” She added: “I get that the Mandalorian is a bounty hunter, not David Attenborough…But it’s still a bummer to see a series so dedicated to portraying alien civilizations with scrappy nuance,” also be so sadistic toward animals, even the imaginary kind.
Allison Hope: ‘Happiest Season’ puts tinsel on the paradox LGBTQ Americans are facing
John Sutter: An expert’s advice on talking to the climate skeptic in your life
Don Lincoln: What tree rings can tell us about the spectacular death of stars
Sen. Dick Durbin: Republicans made this pillar of justice a shell of its former self
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons: Georgia Senate race reminds Republicans they don’t have a lock on ‘God talk’
Edward Lindsey: What Chuck Schumer doesn’t understand about Georgia
Alexandra Martinez: How Democrats can win back the Cuban-American vote
Just let Dolly Parton rule the world already
Thinking back to the hope Apollo 8 astronauts delivered for Christmas at the end of a turbulent 1968, Gene Seymour asked: Who will give us hope in 2020? His answer: “How about Dolly Parton…The flamboyant polymath who wrote two deathless American classics – ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ – in less time than it takes to boil steel cut oats?”
Seymour wove together Parton’s peerless oeuvre and her million-dollar philanthropy for a Covid-19 vaccine (which itself prompted a fan tribute parody of “Jolene” - “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaciiiinnne”) with her recent Christmas album and holiday Netflix special, “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square,” to observe of Parton that “she has only been interested in shining and sharing light wherever there’s darkness – and that includes the shadows that have stalked our lives since Covid-19 began making its perfidious way into our lives. I mean … it’d be nice if Dolly Parton or someone like her did rule the world. For now, let’s just say she owns this year’s holidays. Or at the very least, saved them and, quite possibly, us.”