Running free this Thanksgiving

Unlike so many turkeys this Thanksgiving, these two lucky fellows are free to roam.

It’s not just mindless turkey-talk to suggest that Thanksgiving is even more meaningful, and that the holiday takes on even greater significance, amid the backdrop of challenging circumstances or trying times.

If we accept that axiom, then Thanksgiving 2020 should be far more meaningful and carry much more significance than most. After all, no matter how we slice this turkey, 2020 has served up heaping portions of adversity and has provided a perfect recipe for civil and political unrest almost from the start.

Recapping a rough year

Springtime ushered in a deadly viral pandemic that drastically impacted every aspect of our daily lives, disrupted virtually every cultural norm we hold dear, robbed us of activities and personal liberties we have long enjoyed and spared not a single community as it swept like Blitzkrieg across every sector of North America.

What began in February as a seemingly trivial sliver of international news about a strange virus in China quickly developed into news of the very most local variety. By late-March, every school district in the state, including those in Park County, was closed to traditional in-person learning. Hospitals were running out of beds and rooms in which to treat the sudden onslaught of COVID-19 victims, and more local businesses were closing or reducing hours of operation seemingly every day.

Economic repercussions of the pandemic will likely take years to digest. Although Park County fared better than most, locally owned businesses were by no means immune to the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic and took the brunt of the COVID-19 punch.

Meanwhile, the social and psychological impacts of the health crisis became painfully evident on a local level by mid-summer. Suicides and domestic violence spiked throughout Park County, while first responders and health officials scrambled to handle the growing workload.

By late-August, the Park County Sheriff’s office had responded to more domestic disturbance calls than it had during the entirety of 2019. Much like the economic impacts of COVID-19, the social and psychological impacts of the pandemic will likely take years to fully understand and quantify.

The summer months offered a lull in new COVID-19 cases, but well-documented acts of police brutality and public protests took center stage and embroiled community after community in the same type of racial division that has plagued our nation virtually from its inception.

Regardless of one’s stance on the topic of systematic prejudice or discrimination in our country, the end result of racial strife and ethnic-based conflict is a hopelessly divided and emotionally strained nation. As Lincoln famously stated, “a house divided cannot stand.”

Public displays of racial unrest persisted throughout the summer, and combined with COVID-19, made for a deeply depressing news cycle that was virtually impossible to ignore.

As if we needed further cause for division, the presidential election pitted 73-plus million people on one side, and 79-plus million on the other in an emotionally-charged political climate that left little room for compromise, constructive dialogue or collective progress.

As I write this today, Nov. 23, the political chaos surrounding the presidential election continues despite the fact that the election took place more than three weeks ago. I’ll leave it to historians to accurately record exactly why American voters are still left without proper closure to the 2020 presidential election, and I trust they will do a thorough job of documenting the facts and circumstances surrounding these unprecedented times.

If there was voter fraud committed in the 2020 election, then damn those responsible. I hope all of them are held accountable for their actions. If there is not sufficient evidence of fraud, but doubt has been purposefully cast on election results purely for personal or partisan motives, then damn those responsible for that as well. Both would be unforgivable acts, and both represent direct attacks on our democracy.

Barring evidence to the contrary, it appears that Joe Biden won the election rather handily with 306 electoral votes to President Trump’s 232. Biden captured almost 80 million votes en route to the apparent victory, about six million more than the sitting president.

We will eventually emerge from lawsuits and recounts with a clear winner, and loser. At that point, regardless of the outcome, adhering to the will of the voters will become the priority just as it would in any healthy democracy. That’s the American way and always has been.

I’d love to stop here in describing why it has been a trying year; but unfortunately, there’s more. The headline in last week’s lead story in The Flume was entitled “COVID-19: Bracing for a second round.”

Park County largely dodged a bullet during the first COVID-19 rush, and only recorded about 40 cases while surrounding counties typically reported case counts many times that amount.

But according to Park County health authorities, 169 COVID-19 cases have now been reported countywide, 48 cases are currently active, and three people have died in Park County as a result of the disease.

Summit County health officials issued an emergency notice Nov. 20 declaring that the county had upgraded its threat level to “Red.” Level Red indicates a “severe risk,” and disallows any personal gatherings and all indoor dining. More counties were following suit statewide Nov. 21, and that trend is expected to continue in the coming days.

Most recently, many Americans have made the determination that wearing masks and social distancing runs counter to their personal and political inclinations. Others insist that nothing less than consistently wearing masks and strict social distancing measures will the pandemic’s grip. I’m not sure either perspective is entirely on the mark, but the opposing viewpoints have seemingly settled along political lines and have introduced yet another point of divisiveness to go along with the ever-soaring number of COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, it seems COVID-19 has little regard for our politics, killing more than 250 million Americans and infecting more than 12 million - regardless of their political affiliation. While millions bicker across political lines regarding the wearing of masks, the United States has emerged as the runaway world leader in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The United States currently accounts for more than 12 million of the 53 million cases reported worldwide, which could rightfully be interpreted to mean that our handling of the disease has been less effective, per capita, than any other nation on the globe. That’s really unfortunate for Americans. I think we can agree on that.

Back to the matter of Thanksgiving

What do the challenging events of 2020 really have to do with Thanksgiving, and how could such a dismal recap of the last nine months be reshaped into an expression of appreciation for our many blessings and a renewed sense of hope for the future?

I’ll answer myself one question, and one issue at a time. Since it’s my column, I can do that. Plus it’s Thanksgiving and that counts for something.

COVID-19

Thanksgiving, and the act of professing thanks, it could be argued, is a healthy exercise that should not be reserved exclusively for cheery, prosperous times. Perhaps that’s why Thanksgiving was officially proclaimed a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln during the darkest hours of the Civil War.

Lincoln, while shouldering the immense pressures of the moment, felt it important at that time to officially recognize Thanksgiving on a national level. Abe obviously thought giving thanks during difficult times was appropriate, if not imperative, for the good of the American psyche. In retrospect, the Great Emancipator was probably onto something and we should be thankful for his uncanny foresight.

For all the immeasurable damage being done by COVID-19 to the tune of a quarter of a million-plus American deaths, it still hasn’t risen to the staggering total of the 600,000 American casualties that were sustained in the Civil War. Not yet, at least.

If Americans could find it in their hearts to give thanks during the Civil War, then giving thanks today should be a piece of cake. For that, I suppose we should be thankful.

Cheesecake for me, please.

We can also be thankful that immunizations against COVID-19 are expected to be available in the reasonably near future, perhaps as early as the latter part of December.

We can also be hopeful. We can be hopeful that those who have lost family and loved ones to COVID-19 will find strength and support during their time of grief. We can be hopeful that Americans will work together as a unified entity to slow the spread of the virus, rather than standing stubbornly divided behind political lines and artificial labels.

Finally, with regards to COVID-19, we can be hopeful that our elected leaders at all levels will cast aside partisan preferences and replace them with principled, proactive leadership designed to minimize the short and long-term impacts of the disease. We can hope.

For all these things, and in these ways, we can at least agree to be thankful, and hopeful, can’t we? Have some more stuffing while you mull that over.

Race relations

Video footage of police brutality that took the life of George Floyd left nothing to the imagination. The grotesque images sparked countless protests across the nation, and those protests increased in frequency and intensity throughout the summer months.

The public protests didn’t just occur in urban areas, or on our television screens. Black Lives Matter protests occurred in Fairplay, Guffey and other locations throughout Park County. The old adage that all news is local certainly applied in this instance, just as it did with regards to COVID-19.

It is my opinion that nobody on either side of the political spectrum could make a viable argument that racial strife makes us stronger, or better off in any way, just as nobody could make a reasonable case that all law enforcement entities practice systematic discrimination.

I maintain that those in law enforcement are largely compassionate, caring people, engaging in one of our nation’s most honorable and selfless professions. For that, and for their service, we should all be thankful.

To treat those in law enforcement disrespectfully, or to hold them all accountable for the actions of a few, is a form of prejudicial thinking in and of itself. The notion that we should defund law enforcement entities is also, in my opinion, too ridiculous and misguided to dignify with a response.

That being said, the assertion that people of color have not been disproportionately mistreated for the last 300 years in this country is one that could only be made out of sheer ignorance and a willful disregard for centuries of credible historical documentation.

We can and should be appreciative for the commitment of good people in law enforcement while still recognizing that police brutality against people of color is an ongoing problem that deserves our immediate attention. Those two viewpoints are not mutually exclusive. Both can be true at the same time. Both are true at the same time.

Politics

My frustrations lie with those who would seemingly adopt any viewpoint or candidate based purely upon political affiliation. Any time legislators or political bodies at any level all vote along party lines on a given issue, for example, my natural assumption is that not one bit of original thinking is taking place among them.

Moreover, as United States citizens, until we start utilizing critical thinking rather than relying on Fox News or MSNBC to tell us how to feel, and what to say, we too are paralyzed by partisanship and simply serving as puppets to the professional propaganda spinsters who specialize in stirring the proverbial pot.

Let’s utilize our own God-given critical thinking skills, rather than letting Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity do it for us. If you believe without exception all you see and hear on partisan-based newscasts representing either side of the political spectrum, then I have some oceanfront property in Montana I’d like to sell to you.

Lincoln famously stated that Democracy is a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” – not of the party, by the party or for the party. Unconditional attachment to party affiliations seem to have rendered us void of the self-restraint necessary to cordially and respectfully discuss political issues with others, whether we agree with them or not. But the immediate health of our nation, I believe, hinges on our ability and willingness to do just that.

By the way, is there anything better than a green bean casserole with the crunchy little onion bits on top? I say not.

Thankful, and hopeful

Despite all the forces that have made this a trying year, I am grateful for my health, and the health of my family and friends. I’m thankful for U.S. military veterans who have sacrificed so much to preserve our freedom. I’m thankful for our dedicated educators at all levels, who seldom receive the credit or thanks they deserve. I’m thankful for our first responders, as well as medical professionals who also risk their health and safety for the sake of others on a daily basis. And I’m thankful to live in the greatest country in the world.

I’m hopeful that we can return to good health and normalcy, eventually finding effective means to fight COVID-19. I’m hopeful that we learn from the current health crisis, and that we become wiser and more united in fighting infectious diseases of all varieties.

I’m hopeful that we can overcome racial prejudices, and that future generations will be wiser, more tolerant and more compassionate to those different from themselves.

I’m also hopeful that all of us will strive to disagree in a more agreeable way, and that differing political opinions can someday be not only tolerated, but appreciated and respected.

History has repeatedly shown that when Americans bond together in a united effort, ours is as capable and powerful as any nation on Earth. America does not need to become great again. It has been great since its inception and will continue to be so as long as our democratic ideals and our respect for each other as fellow Americans is preserved and fostered.

Finally, I’m hopeful that each of you has a peaceful and safe Thanksgiving holiday. Your continued support of The Flume is greatly appreciated.

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