Thankfulness and Shamefulness on Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving this year I am profoundly thankful for so many things. I am thankful for having amazing friends and family in my life who love and support me, and whom I love and support. I am thankful for the extraordinary freedoms and privileges I have living in America, even if they are quite imperfect. I am thankful to be in good health. I am thankful for all the majestic beauty around me… I am so lucky to be able to look out my living room window, past my rose garden, and see the morning sunshine reflecting on the ocean beyond.

Yet I am also profoundly ashamed. I am ashamed in a way I have never been at any time in my life. I am ashamed to be an American, and for the values and principles America is starting to represent at home and around the world.

I read a post about shamefulness from an acquaintance on Facebook the other day that caused me to do a double-take. I had to ask myself… is this person airing a real grievance here, or are they trying to gaslight me, and others? This is what they wrote:


That is who I am.

I do not judge you; for your choices or beliefs… Lord knows I have my own sins and judgements.

I love you…because that’s who I am; by my God.

But somehow, I am made to feel ashamed for who I am; from the pressure around me.

As if I have done something wrong….”

Wait… Wut? There IS a real discussion about shamefulness in America today, but it isn’t for the reasons stated in this post. This looks more like: 1) attempting to gain sympathy through self-victimization; and 2) a not very clever attempt to divert attention away from what the real issues are with regard to shamefulness and judgment in America today.

The debate about shamefulness in America today isn’t centered around whether someone is Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Atheist. It isn’t about whether they are Liberal or Conservative or Centrist. It isn’t about whether they are Republican or Democrat or Libertarian.

The debate about shamefulness in America today is about the very essence of what constitutes a shared definition of morality versus immorality.

It is about living in a world that is founded on recognizing science and observational reality versus living in one that is centered on an alternative reality not tethered to the empirical world — and using gaslighting and spreading disinformation to encourage other to do so as well.

It is about whether America should remain a democracy or become an authoritarianism state/criminal oligarchy like Russia. It is about supporting lawfulness versus supporting lawlessness on a scale never before witnessed in America. It is about, as Heather Cox Richardson has stated: “whether or not people will consent to being ruled by a few wealthy leaders without check, or whether they will stand up for their right to self-determination and equality before the law.” It is about whether our loyalty and allegiance is to America and what America has historically stood for, or whether our loyalty is to Russia, and what Russia currently stands for.

Does the person who posted this really believe that it is wrong to judge someone who, for example, rapes a 13 year old girl? Is it wrong to judge someone who thinks it is just fine for someone else to rape a 13 year old girl? Do we share a fundamental moral code with others, beyond which we can, and in fact must, view violation of that code to be shameful and intolerable conduct?

There is a quote from Adam Gopnik that I’ve repeated many times, and that I state here again: “As a matter of both morals and practice, you do not change bad beliefs best by placating those who hold them. You change them by refusing to placate those who hold them. You change them by relentlessly challenging them until enough people become ashamed of holding the bad beliefs.”

And then there is what I wrote here a few weeks ago in my column The Monsters Among Us: “Part of what it means to be an American is to respect the rights of people to hold opinions that differ from our own. But just because we respect the right of a person to hold an opinion we don’t like, it doesn’t mean we have to respect a person who holds a reprehensible opinion.”

Shameful things go beyond raping 13 year old girls. Your value system may be different than mine, but I’d offer the following list of some of the things that I find as being clearly and obviously shameful in America on this Thanksgiving:

  • Pardoning war criminals is shameful.
  • Supporting racism and white nationalism is shameful.
  • Refusing to truthfully testify before Congress in the face of a lawful subpoena is shameful.
  • Soliciting a bribe from and engaging in extortion of a foreign head of state to try to get them to manufacture dirt on a political opponent is shameful.
  • Unnecessarily abandoning American allies to slaughter who have fought and died to help America in our war on terror is shameful.
  • Separating children from their parents with no hope or ability or intention of ever reuniting them is genocidal… and shameful.
  • Pretending science isn’t valid and failing to take prudent steps to protect our children from the effects of global climate change is shameful.
  • Electing representatives to public office who see giving nutjobs easy access to semi-automatic weapons as being more important than the lives of our children is shameful.
  • Repeating, and being gullible enough to believe, Russian propagated disinformation meant to cause harm to America is shameful.
  • Supporting someone into a position of power and authority who represents all of these beliefs is shameful, regardless of one’s religion or political beliefs or political party.
  • Staying silent out of fear in the face of wrongfulness is sometimes understandable, yet it is still shameful.
  • Failing to make sacrifices…. to give our voice, our time, our talent, and our resources in the face of an existential threat to America… is shameful.

By Thanksgiving of next year, we will likely know whether or not America will survive as a democracy.

Let us use this Thanksgiving to take stock of everything we are thankful for, to realize how very fragile our keeping it is, and to recognize that without our own personal commitment, Thanksgiving next year could be a very different reality indeed — one in which so many of the things we are thankful for today are gone, most especially the idea that we will be able to continue to live in freedom, and that our shared dream of building an America in which the lives of our children will be better than our own is gone for the foreseeable future.

Cliff Kurtzman
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