In the throes of a global pandemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and will kill many more, it may be difficult to summon gratitude this Thanksgiving. Our sorrow and frustration are only intensified by a government that seems indifferent to the suffering and exacerbates suspicion and ill will at every opportunity.
And yet, on this day, even as the grim daily toll continues, we have many reasons — indeed, millions — to feel thankful. Personally, I am forever obliged to the friends and family who have helped me and mine stay safe this year.
If we learn anything during the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, it should be to value the resilience, courage, and grit of the people who make life possible in this country. We owe a debt that we will never fully pay to the doctors, nurses, hospital workers, ambulance drivers and countless first responders — the Americans who run toward the danger each day and have done so since spring. Many of them have fallen. Many of them have suffered both physically and psychologically. And many of them have wondered why they did not fail but the government nevertheless failed them.
We ought to be thinking as well of all the other everyday heroes whose labor, too often poorly rewarded and perilous, brings us sustenance and security that we've always taken for granted: the farmers and farm workers; the grocery and pharmacy employees; the public safety, transit, sanitation and utility workers — all the "essentials" we somehow didn't recognize until the prospect of catastrophic social breakdown loomed large.
Let's not forget the thousands of government employees, at every level, whose dedication prevented that breakdown. Across the nation, that includes governors of both parties — particularly Andrew Cuomo, Jay Inslee, Gretchen Whitmer, Phil Murphy, Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker, Phil Scott and Mike DeWine — who, at the very least, tried to provide the leadership absent during this failed presidency.
Speaking of that infamous failure, we can be deliriously pleased that Donald Trump will be leaving the White House soon — a happy fact even he now acknowledges. His impending departure, after four years of ruinous misconduct, is not an accident. It is owed above all to 80 million voters and the activists who inspired and organized them. And it is owed to the crazily diverse coalition that mobilized behind President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Noam Chomsky to former Gov. John Kasich, former Gov. Christie Whitman, and Cindy McCain, to the conservatives behind The Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump.
But while those votes amounted, under Trump's own specifications, to a "landslide," they were not enough to guarantee the outcome. In the face of a premeditated attempt by the president and his partisans to nullify that historic turnout, we saw Americans of all persuasions rise up to defend the Constitution as the votes were counted and contested.
Democratic lawyers such as Marc Elias, Dana Remus, and Michael Waldman, and their colleagues who press that fight, deserve great appreciation. The victory over Trump's minions would never have been possible without their years of toil. But we should likewise recognize another kind of legal champion whose steadfastness held the line: the Republicans whose response when their own leader urged them to violate democratic norms wasn't just no but "hell no."
In Georgia, that Republican was Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state who insisted on an honest count of "legal votes" despite his own allegiance to Trump and his certainty that he himself would pay a heavy personal price for his integrity. In Arizona, that Republican was Mark Brnovich, the state attorney general who threw out bogus claims of election fraud because he knew Biden had won. In Michigan, that Republican was Aaron Van Langevelde, a state board of canvassers member who voted to certify Biden's victory under intense pressure. In Pennsylvania, that Republican was Judge Matthew Brann, who duly booted Rudy Giuliani out of his courtroom "with prejudice." Unlike most leading Republicans, whose profiles in cowardice were so dispiriting, these Republicans did the right thing.
And then there's Biden himself, a figure whose political skills and innate qualities I had long underestimated (and I was hardly alone). We're lucky that he won the nomination and the election, because, as his surefooted transition is proving, he was assuredly the best candidate for this impossible job.
Like his friend and former partner Barack Obama, Biden displays an admirably cool demeanor, dismissing the vicious attacks of adversaries and upholding the venerable American ideal of malice toward none and charity for all. That is the ideal enunciated by the presidents who originated and revived this most generous of national holidays — George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt — and its endurance is worth celebrating.
Lift a glass to freedom.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.