• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Thanksgiving, 2020

Looking out the window this morning, the city looks peaceful, like it always does on Thanksgiving. No signs of pandemic. No signs of economic plight. No signs of constitutional crisis. No signs that the country is in danger of being torn apart.

Los Angeles looked every bit as peaceful on Thanksgiving in 2001, less than three months after 9/11. No signs of grief. No signs of anger. No signs of the impending war with Iraq. No signs of the culture wars that were already unraveling the American experiment in self-government.

On that Thanksgiving day in 2001, nineteen years ago, I sat down to write my first essay on freedom. In a personal exploration into what I was thankful for I wrote, I am most thankful for freedom, liberty, and a civil body politic, for it is through these that the myriad blessings of Providence emerge.

Since then I have written more than 80 essays. Each of them explores another facet of America, chief among them our foundational principle, America’s creed, written at our conception in our Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal … endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our Declaration states that to secure [our unalienable] Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, where does that leave us when large numbers of voters believe the recent election was stolen? Is not consenting to be governed by those who stole an election to yield to tyranny? Is not the stealing of an election the outright antithesis of the rule of law?

President Trump has received more than 70,000,000 votes. At least ½ of these voters believe the election was stolen.[1]   This means there are more 35,000,000 Americans who believe accepting the results of the election is to yield to tyranny. Should the election be overturned and Trump remain in office, we would have as many as 80,000,000 Americans believing the election was stolen, believing they are being asked to yield to tyranny.

Our situation has brought us closer to civil war than at any time in the last 150 years, “testing,” as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “whether [our] nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”  

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I am a product of the American dream, the Blessings of Liberty. The American dream is like a goose that has been laying golden eggs for more than 200 years, securing the Blessings of Liberty to all.

America was the home of my immigrant grandparents fleeing oppression in eastern Europe. My early years were spent in western Pennsylvania, once the home of a vibrant economy supported by oil and steel, now an area of the country that has been left behind.  

Detroit became my home when my parents moved there when I was a teenager. Detroit is where my parents – members of the greatest generation – made their home, raised our family, and found economic security. It’s a part of the country where too many of its Black citizens have been left behind.

In the fallout from too many years of neglect, during a pandemic that has killed more than 250,000 of us and ravaged the economy, increasing numbers of Americans continue to be left behind.

And in the political turmoil that this has generated, we stand on the precipice of our own defeat. We are today at grave risk of killing the Golden Goose of Liberty.

We must find our way back.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fifteen years ago, while writing my Holiday Season, 2005 essay, I ran across a deeply moving speech by the great jurist, Judge Learned Hand. The date was May 21, 1944 with the outcome of the Second World War very much in doubt. The occasion was as an “I Am an American Day” ceremony held in Central Park, New York. Thousands of people were present, including many new citizens.

On this day of giving thanks, we can all be grateful for Judge Hand’s wisdom. Perhaps it can help pull us back from the precipice.  

Liberty lies not in the law, but “in the hearts of men and women.”

Liberty is not “the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow.”

“The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.”

“The spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

“The spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lincoln’s wisdom has been a near-constant in my essays. It was in my Independence Day, 2006 essay that I first included his second inaugural address affirmation.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations, a vision that Government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.

More wisdom to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. More wisdom to help pull us back from the precipice.  

And this in today’s New York Times from Pope Francis:

To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.

As to how we do this, I know no better advice than Lincoln’s.

If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which is the high road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause be a just one.

If we are to step back from the precipice of our own defeat, if we are to bring the Blessings of Liberty to all our people … in our cities and in all parts of our country that have fallen on hard times … if we are to complete the revolution, it will be the result of becoming sincere friends …. building bridges, not walls.

On this Thanksgiving, when more than 250,000 of us have died from COVID, it is a time to act as Lincoln beseeched us at Gettysburg.

We are to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Let us take this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to double down on our resolve to rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Let us reach across our political divide, treating those on the other side as equals, doing the hard work required to become friends, to find common ground, and to heal a deeply wounded nation.

Let Freedom Ring.

Copyright © 2020. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided the essay is reproduced unedited and in its entirety, its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org, and this copyright NOTICE is included.

[1] A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll finds approximately 50% of Trump voters believe the election was stolen. Other polls give higher numbers. A recent Rasmussen Poll finds 75% of Trump voters believe the election was stolen.

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