It seemed like the negative campaign ads went on forever this election season. First the primary ads, then the general election. I don't watch a lot of TV, and I watch even less in real time. But in October and early November, every time I did turn on the television for a quick news update or to flip to the DVD setting, a barrage of foreboding images, jarring music, and criticism of the opposing candidate (whoever that might be) blared at me. Add some of the things people post slamming others' opinions and positions on Facebook and Twitter and there were days I just wanted to turn everything off (and did).
So it might be strange that one of the things I'm most thankful for this Thanksgiving is our political process. But I am. For one thing, every time a new president is elected, the past president leaves the office peacefully and the new one enters peacefully. Likewise when Congress changes over. This seems like a very basic thing that naturally occurs in our culture. That it's not a given, though, struck me when I traveled to Armenia in late 1999 to visit a friend in the Peace Corps who was volunteering there. Just before I went, there was a coup, and numerous members of the government were shot, and other people took over. That's never happened in my lifetime, nor in my parents' lifetimes, in the U.S. (and my dad was born in 1918). Here, we have a change in power through elections, and when it's time to go, the loser goes, no matter how unhappily.
Also, people in the U.S. can say or write pretty much anything we want short of threatening serious harm to someone else. And there are so many venues for doing so, from shopping malls, to street corners, to blogs, to Twitter, to on-line magazines to pamphlets. I can criticize the president, the legislature, the mayor. I can say that I think George W. is the Anti-Christ or Obama is the Anti-Christ or either one is the worst (or best) president we've ever had and no one will knock on my door in the middle of the night and haul me away to prison.
And if I don't like this country, I'm free to leave. When I was growing up, my mom used to tell me about the Iron Curtain and how most people in the Soviet Union were not allowed to leave even for a visit to another country. If I don't like it here, the government will not stop me from leaving. People can and do threaten to move to Canada or somewhere else if the other party wins the election. While I suspect few of them do so, the wonderful thing is, they can. Or they can run for office themselves. It's a toss up.
Not only can I write what I want, I can read what I want, including news reports from all over the world with a click of a mouse, as well opinions from people all over the world. I don't always want to read all those opinions, but I can. Going back to my visit to Armenia, the country in 1999 was no longer part of the Soviet Union, yet most people I met had radios that got only one station -- the government station. There have been times when our government has engaged in pretty heavy propaganda and when it's been harder than it is now to get news from other sources. But I've always been able to choose from multiple news outlets, and now, perhaps, can choose from so many that it's hard to narrow it down.
Another thing I'm grateful for is that people in this country believe passionately in human rights and freedom. They may interpret those rights and freedoms differently, and they may argue with one another about them, but they believe in them. Any given section of the Constitution means one thing to me, another to my neighbor, and another to the U.S. Supreme Court, but we all care enough to try to figure out what it means. And to talk about what it means. The justices on our Supreme Court, and the President of our country, and the members of Congress, all take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Rights matter, freedom matters.
These are just a few of things I love about living here and about our political process. My grandparents on my mothers' side died before I turned 7, and I don't remember a lot about them. I will always be grateful to them for coming to this country where they didn't know the language and they struggled through the Depression so that they could give their children and grandchildren more opportunities, and more freedom, than they believed they could find in their own country. I wish I could tell them thank you, but this will have to do.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
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