Three hundred and seventy-six years ago (how time flies!) the Pilgrims counted their blessings and decided to give thanks. They faced many difficulties and dangers, but they found “a healthy balance on the credit side.” This week, which includes Thanksgiving Day, seems a good time to count our blessings and woes, and we have a panel of astute observers of the American scene to do that. It is now almost two years until the next election, so we may be in a good position to discuss our condition objectively, without a partisan obligation to say that everything is wonderful or that everything is terrible.
A discussion of this sort will inevitably deal with some economic variables: the national income and its distribution, economic security and insecurity, and so on. But it should also consider some less-measurable aspects of our lives–freedom, justice, morals, and aesthetics. Are we, in Robert Bork’s words, “slouching towards Gomorrah?” What has become of the American dream? What was, or is, the American dream?
The story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving has often been the subject of irony. I want to share a quotation I ran across from W.M. Evarts, who referred, 100 years ago, to “the pious ones of Plymouth, who, reaching the Rock, first fell upon their knees and then upon the aborigines.” From the vantage point of 1996, I would refer to “the pious ones of Washington, who, having judged America, first fell upon the movies and then upon the universities.”