Franke: We Can Be Thankful Even Now

November 23, 2020

by Mark Franke

I listened in the other day while my wife read a Thanksgiving story to our grandchildren. It was the traditional story with Pilgrims and Squanto and a shared dinner. Then, the book was published in 1973 before political correctness was running amok.

This book, “The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving” by Ann McGovern, paints an idyllic portrait of the first full year of the English settlement at Plymouth Rock. It is a look-back through rose-colored glasses, at least to an extent, but what is wrong with that?

Much of what we are taught in school about our history is presented in the best possible light in deference to our cultural heritage. Maybe it glosses over a few of the less reputable events in our past and focuses our attention on those which triumph our successes. Does anyone really care if George Washington chopped down a cherry tree? It is his inherent honesty which is taught in the story, an honesty that served him and his country well.

It doesn’t all have to score 100 percent on the historical accuracy scale to be worthwhile to teach to our children. There are moral principles involved and there is a fabric to be woven that unites us as Americans. It is what makes us exceptional as a people, a people united by a creed rather than any tribal affiliation.  

When we teach our children these anecdotes, the point is that they learn the lesson intended . . . lessons of moral rectitude, love of country and duty to neighbor. Heroes help us internalize these lessons by taking them to heart and incorporating them into our own character development. Why not have as your hero George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or any other president? It sure beats Colin Kaepernick or the current rapster.  

Does it really matter that the truth may be stretched somewhat? Or that no attempt is made to balance the good with some ex post facto evil dug from somewhere in the evanescent past? We don’t need persistent moral equivocation in our legends. Judging those in the past by today’s politically driven standards is neither intellectually honest nor helpful in unifying us around the core principles that define the United States of America.

Which brings to mind that iconic line from the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” We need more legends that uplift us rather than tear us down.

I know, the current spoil-sport mentality wants us to be in perpetual purgatory for all the sins our forefathers committed and for which we must atone over and over. Find a crack in the statue and it gets torn down regardless of the overarching good the subject did in his life. Perfection is the standard, but it is a postmodern subjective one that becomes more and more radicalized almost on a daily basis.

Enough already. No one can dwell on the negative all the time without becoming irredeemably negative about everything. How do we set an example for our children and grandchildren if all we do is criticize and complain? How do we as Americans, beneficiaries of the best experiment in self-government ever, set an example to a world that looks to us for hope?

This Thanksgiving, I am going to forget my disappointment with the recent election and my increasing concern about COVID so that my grandchildren can continue to look to me as a role model for how to live a life of contentment and thankfulness. And Grandma will continue reading them wholesome, patriotic stories that honor family, neighbors, nation and God. And I really don’t care how others will judge me for my 1950s naivete.  

I will hold to my idealized vision of the first Thanksgiving, frolicking Pilgrim and Indian children playing while the adults shared what they had. And there’s another lesson to be learned. They shared of their own accord, without a massive government taxation system to redistribute the bounty. This came from their hearts, both Pilgrim and Indian.  

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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