Dispatch from the Frontlines of the War on Thanksgiving
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Dispatch from the Frontlines of the War on Thanksgiving

In Which Our Correspondent Bravely Reports from the Head of the Family Table

Terry H. Schwadron

Happy Thanksgiving. It was my intent to skip a column today, or just to post a greeting to readers. After all, my wife and I are with our full nuclear family for the first time in some years and that’s a fearsome love fest whose happiness is infectious.

And, it is acknowledged all around as a day in which we escape the humdrum demands of Washington politics and disagreements, however serious.

But then I just read that between impeachment charge denials and self-promotion, Donald Trump was yelling at supporters a couple nights ago at his rally in Florida that people like me are on the wrong side of a War on Thanksgiving—akin to conservatives’ years-long whine about a War on Christmas, in which there was something wrong with saying Happy Holidays to be more inclusive than Merry Christmas to an increasingly diverse American population.

Change Thanksgiving to something else? What exactly? Blue Thursday? Go ‘Bama Football day?

According to Vox.com, Trump is “taking it a step further: he’s claiming liberals are out to get Thanksgiving, too.

“At a rally in Florida on Tuesday, the president confoundingly (sic) reassured supporters that he wouldn’t let the “radical left” change Thanksgiving’s name.

“As we gather for Thanksgiving, you know, some people want to change the name Thanksgiving. They don’t want to use the term Thanksgiving,” Trump said. He later continued: “People have different ideas why it shouldn’t be called Thanksgiving, but everybody in this room, I know, loves the name Thanksgiving. And we’re not changing.”

Er, what is he talking about?

A Mixed Up Holiday

Sure, some people don’t like a full day of gorging, endless football games and, for some, at least, forced kinship with long-missed relatives. More may object to the increasingly intrusive move to start shopping for the, um, holiday season right in the middle of dinner, or employers insisting on denying workers at big retail outlets a holiday.

Or others may harken back to the original Pilgrim-Wampanoag Indian get-together, and mention that the Puritans were more than a bit harsh to native populations after there had been such a nice get-together that day at Plymouth, Mass. Maybe you’ll even get some pushback about increased air traffic around the holiday.

But change Thanksgiving to something else? What exactly? Blue Thursday? Go ‘Bama Football day?

Of course, this is from the same guy who tweeted out his head pasted on Rocky Balboa’s well-conditioned torso, so maybe we shouldn’t be taking The President of the United States seriously.

As Vox noted, it’s not clear who on the Left Trump believes is trying to change the name of Thanksgiving, which is a secular American holiday. Trump’s remarks quickly took off online, with the hashtags #WarOnThanksgiving and #WhatLiberalsCallThanksgiving trending on Twitter, largely ironically. Some conservatives, on the other hand, have tried to find ways to back up the president’s claims.

The president has leaned into culture wars often throughout his tenure, aware that it’s a way to rally his base and sow division. Declaring out of the blue that there’s a movement on the left to change the name of Thanksgiving is another example of that, according to Vox.

Fox and Friends, the political commentary show on Fox, noted that there was once a false rumor that former President Barack Obama wanted to change Thanksgiving’s name years ago. They acknowledged on-air that it was not true.

Likewise, the whole War on Christmas complaint started from a Fox promotion in 2005 of a book by radio host John Gibson that “alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday.” The campaign was embraced as an outward expression of secularism, from creches to school functions to Starbucks coffee cups. Trump has taken up that cause to promote his ties to evangelists.

Still, Trump obviously thinks promoting his defense in a War on Thanksgiving should be yet another cog in his drive for the division of Americans.

Trump and Tradition

Let’s just please remember that this is Trump talking about tradition and holidays. As president, if not in his business life, Trump proudly rejects all notions of tradition, and one could hardly square his harsh views on immigration, health care, environment or other areas with lessons of holiday spiritualism. He only cares about himself, the opposite of the lessons of Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Indeed, since 1970, some Native Americans have instead been observing the National Day of Mourning, a protest and remembrance of “the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.” They gather in Plymouth on Thanksgiving each year.

But it is not even clear that this protest is what Trump was referencing. If it was, it is hardly a widespread Leftist effort, but like native concerns about Columbus, an attempt to suggest that there is something missing from the country’s accepted public history.

From where I come from, a harvest festival like Thanksgiving is both a nice tradition and a family-based holiday without religious overtones. It is about the love of home as well as a good meal, and a reminder that we do have lots for which to feel gratitude. Sharing that feeling and adding social justice action only heightens that feeling.

Hey, what’s next? New Year’s Eve? Don’t look at me. I wasn’t the one who changed its name from the traditional Feast of the Circumcision Day.

Change the holiday name? What for?

Happy Thanksgiving, even to the Trumps.

November 28, 2019