“It could be worse” hardly sounds optimistic, but it’s an aphorism worth considering this Thanksgiving. We all grow up hearing some version of the first Thanksgiving; and of Lincoln’s subsequent consecration of the day. We are also bombarded with quaint vignettes of wholesome family gatherings, the big parade in New York and Black Friday sales.
How then does “it could be worse” fit into the national mythos of Thanksgiving? This editorial provides a prime example. If you are reading it, you are not illiterate. Chances are, if you’re reading it on a printed paper or computer screen, you have sight. Assuming the Commercial doesn’t have a vast international audience, you’re probably reading it here, in the United States, where the government doesn’t control the media — where editorialists are largely free to opine as they wish — and where you are free to have your say as well.
Beyond these things, the mere act of reading this editorial means you are sufficiently affluent to have access to a newspaper and you have a moment in which to read it. In short, it could be worse.
You could be a settler in the smoldering war zone of the Gaza. You could be a slave — yes, a slave — in the Sudan; or a child soldier in Somalia.
None of us in America are fleeing a regime bent on ethnic cleansing or genocide. We live in a country where the vast majority of communities have a consistent supply of potable water, dependable electricity and proximity to competent medical care.
Street scenes from American cities show people so plump from Dionysian excess that they waddle down the sidewalks. Almost nobody starves in America. Those of us who are hungry often can avail ourselves of our countrymen’s charity. You’ll notice that even America’s homeless are more plump than most in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Do we have more crime than most societies? Admittedly so, but our police are trained, professional and on balance, dependable stewards of public order.
Should you stumble (or run headlong) into a situation whereby you must answer before a court, your American luck ensures the process will be fair and open. Even if it’s not immediately as fair as the Constitution instructs, you’ll have opportunities to have your trial reviewed by other courts. Should things really not go your way, our prisons are among the most scrupulously monitored and safe in the world. You won’t be tortured or simply disappear.
We also have the luxury of debating “Obamacare.” Our nation isn’t racked by epidemics of cholera, malaria, dysentery, dengue fever and the like. As above, our epidemics are obesity, type II diabetes and coronary disease.
While many Americans die at work, very few of us are literally worked to death. Again, there are no slaves, no child sweatshops. We have wage and hour laws, unemployment insurance, OSHA and myriad workers’ rights.
Unlike global garden spots such as Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan where, as the watchdog organization, FreedomHouse.org states, “political opposition is banned, criticism of the government is met with retribution, and independent organizations are suppressed” we are free to openly dissent.
Moreover, those nations have had unchanging regimes in place for an average of just under two decades. We have presidential elections every four years. While we may not like the outcome, electing somebody not of our party is a far cry from the oppression of a totalitarian warlord. We even have the freedom to tell the White House we want to secede from the union — with the assurance that the national army will not roll in to suppress our facetious revolt.
None of this disputes that we have problems. We could certainly enumerate a long list, but the facts are what they are. It is better to be poor, hungry, homeless, and the party out of power in the United States than anywhere else in the world. Begrudgingly or not, we have plenty about which to be thankful.