I was reminded recently that the first Presidential proclamation of a national day of Thanksgiving was made by none other than George Washington in 1789, following a similar proclamation by John Hancock on behalf of the Continental Congress in 1776. These initial steps were made permanent by Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation during a still raging civil war in 1863, when Lincoln said:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
Once again, both the left and the right political wings of our great nation have tested the strength of our union, mostly without violence. I would not be the first or last writer to observe that this Presidential election was one of the most divisive and bitter in memory. Going forward, what I remain most concerned about is the tone and loss of civility, which may not be easily healed and which may require its own Reconstruction Period.
Two weeks ago, I was heartbroken by the image of a 19-year old freshman girl, her face covered with a mix of dried and wet tears. A graduate of my eldest daughter’s school, she was one of a group of college freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, who had been added en masse and against their will to a social media account that included racial slurs and a “daily lynching” calendar, which included a photo of Black people hanging from trees. Students from Vanderbilt University were also added to the list.
I have not been 19 years-old in a while, but I know some of these bright and young fellow Americans may be scarred for a long-time.
The FBI, U Penn, Vanderbilt, University of Oklahoma and Tulsa Community College have all been involved in the ensuing investigation, which has resulted in the expulsion of at least one student to date. The incident, one of several post-election, was enough to warrant a public statement from Amy Gutman, the university’s President, stating what should be obvious:
“We must reiterate how absolutely essential it is to the core values of our community, and also to the well-being of our society and world, that all persons be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
A North Star is the brightest star towards which the very axis of the earth points. The North Star is a guiding light, day or night. Likewise, America can point towards its own North Star. I see two alternatives: the Garden of Eden or the Tower of Babel.
The Garden of Eden: the closest thing to heaven on earth, or as the Pledge of Allegiance says, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The Tower of Babel: a failed attempt to reach heaven from earth, where God himself destroyed the ability of the people to communicate with each other and as result the people were ineffective, divided and easily scattered.
There is not much new under the sun. The Book of Genesis observes that unity equals strength and remarks that, as one people with one language, nothing that they sought would be out of their reach.
One way or another, America is pointing towards Eden or Babel. The truth is not somewhere in between. (That would be a half-truth.) There is work to be done to point back to Eden. We need a Reconstruction, or better yet, a Revival.
I am praying for Eden.
E Pluribus Unum.