On the third Thursday of November, Americans gather with friends and family to feast and celebrate our national day of thanksgiving.
Yes, there is much we are thankful for as we down our plates of turkey, cranberries and pie.
But on this Thanksgiving Day, there is also much angst in our country… and much uncertainty about what lies ahead.
We know that the fundamentals of our democracy are strong. We just had a free election… and independent courts have taken issue with edicts put out by the White House — a sign that the separation of powers envisioned by the framers of our Constitution still endures.
But there are strains as we mark Thanksgiving Day, 2018. Political divisions persist in America… and we seem to have a president who savors the act of rubbing salt in the wounds.
You could see it on full view in the span of two weeks: from Election Day on November 6th, until the time Donald Trump left the White House for a holiday stay at his Florida resort on the 20th.
The results of the election — which gave Democrats control of the House of Representatives — sent him into a tail spin. Come January, when a new Congress is sworn into office, House Republicans will no longer be able to protect him. Instead, Democrats will be free to launch a series of investigations into his actions and ethics in office.
Trump was in a foul mood just days after the election when he left Washington for ceremonies in France marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War One. He berated British Prime Minister Theresa May during an in-flight telephone call from Air Force One, scowled at official events, and canceled plans to visit an American military cemetery because of rain (for the record, the leaders of France and Germany managed to perform their outdoor duties just fine.)
This was a weekend to stand with allies and honor the dead. The President of the United States did neither one.
And when he returned home, he ignored the military on America’s own Veteran’s Day and used a nationally broadcast interview to go after one of the nation’s great modern military heroes.
Retired Admiral William H. McRaven oversaw the operations that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden and the capture of Saddam Hussein. A few months ago, he wrote an essay for the Washington Post, where he defended former CIA Director John Brennan, a critic of the Trump administration’s handling of national security affairs.
When asked about McRaven during an appearance on Fox News, President Trump chastised him as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer.”
He then said McRaven should have caught bin Laden faster.
So here we have a president who never served in the military, has never found the time to visit our troops abroad, has belittled the heroism of a prisoner of war, and is now deriding a man who by all accounts had a brilliant career in the US. Navy and is currently battling cancer.
All this because McRaven felt John Brennon was maligned by the Trump White House, and worried aloud about the president’s handling of the press. That was apparently enough to get him on Donald Trump’s enemies list.
But while a revered military man with impeccable morals can be considered an enemy, the president has no problem cozying up to some of the most brutal authoritarians in the world.
Like Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the Saudi throne.
Evidence continues to mount that he played a role in ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident from Saudi Arabia who penned columns for the Washington Post.
He was killed in the most brutal way at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. There are tapes so chilling that President Trump has admitted that he felt no need to hear them — just getting briefed on their contents was enough.
Saudis have been charged with the killing. But one burning question remains: did they act on orders from the crown prince?
Reports say the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency believes he was involved. President Trump, who has been a critic of the U.S intelligence community, isn’t so sure.
As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving Day — getting those last carts of groceries or boarding planes to visit loved ones who live far away — the president spoke out about the Khashoggi murder.
He said the United States stands by Saudi Arabia, whether or not Mohammed bin Salman gave the order to kill…
In other words, our business dealings are worth more than the nation’s moral core.
The president said the crime was “a terrible one and one that our country does not condone.”
But he went on to state that in the end, whether or not the crown prince was involved does not matter.
“We may never know all the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
In short, he said, as long as the Saudis help us stand up to Iran and combat terrorism, well, we can look the other way when they abuse human rights.
That’s just what you would expect from an American president whose motto is “America First.”
But what about decency? What about the sanctity of every human life?
“We’re not going to give up hundreds of billons of dollars in orders and let Russia, China and everybody else have them,” is his response.
But not everyone in Washington is buying it.
These are the words of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham: “It is not in our interest to look the other way… when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.”
Graham is a Trump ally. Just imagine what the Democrats said.
Or how about this reaction from Karen Attiah — Khashoggi’s editor and colleague at the Post:
“In effect, Trump is doing his best to help the Saudi regime get away with the murder of a U.S. resident and one of the Arab world’s most prominent writers. If the administration continues down this path, it will further destroy whatever is left of America’s moral credibility on global human rights and freedom of expression.”
That is something all of us who live in this blessed land should think about as we gather on Thanksgiving Day.
Let us speak for those who have no voice… and stand up for the victims of violence and despair.
It is time to give thanks for all we have.
Let us also say a prayer for them.