Politics & Policy

Gratitude, Even in November 2012

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, by Jennie A. Brownscombe (1850-1936)
What we’re thankful for.

It’s been a disappointing month for many in this part of the World Wide Web. But there remains much to be thankful for. National Review friends and family gather here to give a little thanks.

RACHEL CAMPOS-DUFFY

In 1620 the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, fleeing religious persecution and enduring great hardship to establish a new home where they could worship freely and practice their faith. The story of the Pilgrims reminds us today that there are things worth fighting and sacrificing for. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for their example and I will tell my kids of their courage and moral fortitude and of our own family’s responsibility to stand up for religious liberty in our time. 

Thanksgiving is a perfect time for all Americans of faith to thank our God, from whom our rights come, and our forefathers, who fought to preserve them. It is a time to recommit to the defense of our first and most important right — our right to practice our religion free from government interference. And hey, it wouldn’t kill us to sing “My Country ’Tis of Thee” around the Thanksgiving table this year.

“ . . . Land where our fathers died!

Land of the Pilgrims’ pride!

From every mountain side,

Let freedom ring!”

May you and your loved ones have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

— Rachel Campos-Duffy is a mother of six, an author, a pundit, and the wife of Congressman Sean Duffy.

ROBERT COSTA

After I drive to Yardley, Pa., to visit my parents, I’ll throw my bag on my childhood bed, walk to the kitchen, and grab a can of root beer from the refrigerator. Then I’ll take a drive through the leafy Philadelphia suburbs, past my high school, and past the crowded soccer fields and empty baseball fields where I used to spend most of my days. But it’s more than a trip down memory lane. I’m on my way to two quiet spots for a few minutes of prayer and thanks.

Yardley is home to many historic sites, but visits to two places always seem to jolt my gratitude nerve. First up is the Garden of Reflection, a beautiful memorial park tucked behind some oak trees. The first thing you see there is a piece of scrap metal from the World Trade Center. It’s rusted and jagged and slices the air. Behind the metal, there is a pair of bubbling fountains surrounded by granite. The smooth rock is covered with the names of those who died on 9/11.

The rocky, shallow Delaware River is down the road. I park next to a cannon near the water. This is where George Washington and his band of ragged, near-frozen soldiers launched their surprise attack on the Hessians. As they stepped into the heavy Durham boats on Christmas Day, 1776, they were stepping into peril, but they persevered and won an important victory. You can almost hear their ghosts as you walk along the muddy banks.

These two stops never take more than hour. Sometimes I’ll bring a friend or sibling, other times I’ll go alone.

Thanksgiving is about family and old friends, about reconnecting and reminiscing. It’s about turkey and stuffing, college football and cold beer. But it’s also about remembering, about being thankful for those who have sacrificed. Since our founding, America has seen much tragedy and challenge, but we still carry on, hopeful and thankful.

— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.

DAVID FRENCH

As we begin a twelfth holiday season since September 11, I’m thankful for a nation that has enough fortitude — a culture that cultivates enough courage — to fight our longest war with an all-volunteer force.

Through recessions and recoveries, through victories and setbacks, and even as casualty counts have risen ever higher, our nation has produced every year hundreds of thousands of men and women willing to risk everything rather than sit at home and enjoy the fruits of the most prosperous nation in world history.

Our culture has many problems, but we still value courage, and we still raise enough courageous young people to carry on the legacy of valor that has defined and shaped our nation. And for that, I am exceedingly grateful.

David French is co-author of Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War.

CHARLOTTE HAYS

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others,” Cicero wrote. But damn it, practicing gratitude is more difficult than forgiving people right now. Did the Romans count their blessings when their city was sacked in 410? “Happy Thanksgiving — not that it is very happy,” I grumbled earlier today on my morning coffee run to the only other person I know to be a registered Republican in my Northwest Washington neighborhood. He harrumphed back, and we agreed that it isn’t easy to be thankful when you are terrified about the future. But of course this is just the time to practice gratitude. This is not the first fiscal cliff in history. We are more in need of gratitude right now than we were during any Thanksgiving of my life. We can’t have a civil society without gratitude — and, indeed, envy, the opposite of gratitude, is one of the factors that have got us as a society in such a fix.

I’m having Thanksgiving dinner with one of my oldest friends, somebody I knew in my callow youth in New Orleans, and his wife. It will be a warm and cozy affair with delicious food and good conversation (though we will all be fearful about the state of the nation). I’d be an ingrate not to know how lucky I am as we sit around the table come Thursday (or any other day, for that matter). I will not, however, have been able to forgive the voters by then. That’s going to take some work.

— Charlotte Hays is director of cultural programs at the Independent Women’s Forum.

ANDREW C. MCCARTHY

It is in the hardest times and deepest disappointments that we invariably witness and touch what is best in us. Thanksgiving around these parts is going to be a time of recovery and reflection. I live in a community and a region that was hit very hard by the recent “super-storm.” That’s a new term in our lexicon, and the way things go they’ll probably be applying it to drizzles come April. But this one really did do a number on us, and many people’s lives will never be the same.

Some are changed for the better, though. The remoteness bred by our busy lives often melted away when someone who didn’t have to lent a helping hand. Kids witnessed these examples and learned that there is pride not just in community but also in being self-sufficient — in being the person who is a practical help to others because he knows how to take matters into his own hands.

Conservatives, too, are learning in defeat that self-reliance is the order of the day. I recently spent a weekend with a large group of political friends. I’ll confess to a bit of dread in anticipation — I thought it would be more like a wake than a retreat. Turned out, however, that people were energized, not deflated. The sense was: “Look, no one thinks it is a good thing that Obama won. But we realize now that we can never beat back those who want to devour our liberty until we clean our own house, until we take ownership and stop taking cues from leaders who don’t seem sure that liberty is worth fighting over.” It’s a very American spirit. Without it, the pioneers we fondly recall on Thanksgiving would never have forged the greatest nation in human history — greatest not because its people are the best, but the freest.

Andrew C. McCarthy is author of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.

ED MECHMANN

In the aftermath of the elections, many of us who are engaged in the struggle to promote a Culture of Life are having a hard time seeing any cause for thanksgiving. A committed anti-life administration was brought back into office, the defense of authentic marriage suffered a setback, and many commentators are suggesting that the Republican party jettison its pro-life and pro-marriage positions. On the world stage, peace seems more elusive than ever. In such an environment, can we see anything to be thankful for?

While our modern media tend to concentrate on the big picture, the reality is that a true Culture of Life is the product of a myriad of decisions made on the personal, individual level. When we look there, we see hope. We see fewer abortions taking place in America as more individual women and men choose life over death and more families support and welcome them. We see more women and men speaking out about the pain of their abortions, and the healing they’ve experienced through ministries like the Sisters of Life. We see more young people standing up for purity and virtue, like the Generation Life missionaries in the Archdiocese of New York. We see young adults at Pre-Cana classes choosing to get married instead of conforming to the emotional dead end of the hook-up and cohabitation mentality.

Such small steps are invisible to our media culture, but plain to see for those who look in the right place. By the grace of God and the cooperation of everyday people, a Culture of Life is being built within the ruins of our age, one heart and one life at a time. That gives us great cause for thanksgiving.

— Edward T. Mechmann is assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office at the Archdiocese of New York.

ERIC METAXAS

I’m grateful for a nation in which we still have the freedom to fight those things that would seek to destroy our freedom.

The word “still” in that sentence is not intended to be merely incendiary any more than Benjamin Franklin was being merely cheeky when he famously said that we had been given a republic, if we can keep it. His remark needs to be taken tremendously seriously right now, as we’ve not been keeping it at all well. The glorious gift of freedom bequeathed to us by the Founders is a fragile flower in need of our attention (which is why I’m also grateful for Os Guinness’s spectacular book, titled A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future). If we neglect it, as we’ve done, it will certainly wither and die.

Which is why I’m especially grateful for our Religious Freedom, which is at the very heart of all our freedoms. When it is threatened, we must know that Lady Liberty herself has had a cocked pistol pointed at her head. Shall we look away? We’ve enjoyed religious liberty in such unprecedented abundance in this nation that we are the proverbial fish without any idea of wetness or water — nor that without it, he will soon die. Without religious freedom, we will cease to be America, and will become “America.” Now when it’s being threatened, we must use our remaining freedom to defend it with all our might and main, lest the very thing that holds all else together would be silently stolen away from us.

Finally, I’m grateful for Americans who know that God has blessed us with our fragile flower of freedom precisely so that we might bless the rest of the world with the hope of it. May a thousand such flowers bloom.

— Eric Metaxas is author of No Pressure, Mr. President! The Power of True Belief in a Time of Crisis.

MICHAEL NOVAK

For the last four or five elections I have believed that at stake was whether God still blessed America. In the eyes of our Founders, belief that He does (“With a firm reliance on Divine Providence”) is conditional on our national behavior. How can we expect Providence to bless our efforts, George Washington told his troops in 1776, if we do not live worthy of Him?

My depression about the election lasted only one night. The rest of the week I was depressed by the mess the nation is now in, and the old policies the president promised to pursue during his campaign.

The president is well on his way to forcing our military down to levels unseen in the last 50 years — fewer ships for the Navy than in 1939–40; aircraft older than the young men flying them. We shall no longer have an ability to fight two wars at once — or even to fight one with unchallengeable military strength.

The president has already racked up national deficits so large they cannot be paid off in the lifetime of our children, and will still weigh down our grandchildren. Our generation is so “compassionate” we will spend money (for the poor, we say) that we do not even have.

On the other hand, experience shows that Providence, in failing to grant our prayers, normally has wiser things in mind. In a way, our present loss may be a reprieve for the Party of Liberty, such that it does not have to inherit the damage that is surely coming down on this nation during the next four years.

Obviously, the majority of the country does not grasp the peril our nation is in. So maybe it is in fact wiser that incoming perils be tied unmistakably to the New Statists, to their long-term discredit.

Our Founders concluded from their long search for the fatal flaw in all previous Republics that the most destructive of all social flaws is envy — envy of one class for another, one section of the city for another, one dynastic family for another. Envy is more destructive than hate, for envy never calls itself envy, but justice or fairness. Yet it leads ineluctably to social warfare, even at the price of self-destruction.

President Obama’s persistent effort to paint the top 2 percent of income earners as foes of “fairness” and the “common good” poisons national amity. That will have effects for years to come. To what good end? Private capital that would have been invested in jobs for future wealth creation will be seized by government. With what practical results? 

Sometimes nations need chastisement before they get the point: There must be a high level of mutual respect in the daily life of a Republic, if there is to be unity, amicability, and a just estimate of the unique contributions of each sector to the whole.

— Michael Novak is distinguished visiting professor at Ave Maria University and a co-author, with Jana Novak, of Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country.

ALAN SEARS

This is the Year of Our Lord 2012. And thanks be to God it is.

One of my usually favorite national publications last week began an editorial referring to this fact in a somewhat disdainful manner, apparently because by implication such recognition requires public figures to hold themselves to a sometimes inconvenient standard of behavior. Ironically, on those same pages for many years has appeared a recurring column that recounts both the history of the colonial settlement that gave rise to this nation and the basis for the same — a deep and abiding call from God for liberty and His providence in our lives.

This year’s unsettling election results disturb the souls of most with whom I keep company. With so much uncertainty in the nation (economics, unemployment, threats to liberty) and in the world (Middle East unrest, Israel imperiled and alone), as we approach Thanksgiving I am most thankful that this is the Year of Our Lord 2012. And for the steadfastness of God. That there is one who is above and over all things, one who is always there, who never fails, and whose love for us surpasses all knowledge and understanding.

And I am thankful for God’s mercy and grace upon this great nation and its people — whether they love, hate, or deny Him, and upon me, my family, the ministry I am honored to lead. And I am most grateful for those men and women of faith whom He has allowed me to know, to ally with, to work with, and to stand beside.

During my travels last week, in a span of less than 48 hours, I had deep conversations with a rabbi of one of the leading congregations in New York, the Baptist pastor of one of the nation’s largest churches, the Roman Catholic archbishop of a major diocese, and a best-selling non-denominational religious author. Common in every conversation were two things — a deep and abiding love and concern for America and a shared certainty that God will continue to “shed His grace on thee.” I pray this be so.

— Alan Sears is president of Alliance Defending Freedom

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