Thanksgiving and mourning, the American “rhetoric of rising”, slipping out of the labor force and more

Thinking about how to take a decolonizing approach to Thanksgiving, we are reminded that for many Native Americans it is a Day of Mourning. Here are some pieces on the erased history of Thanksgiving, suggestions on how you can support Indigenous American communities this year, a few potential Thanksgiving recipes from Native chefs, and an interview with Native author Tommy Orange.   


How the $4 trillion that the U.S. government has put toward the pandemic response has been spent. As the Washington Post reported last month:

[More] than half of that sum, roughly $2.3 trillion, has gone to businesses that in many cases didn’t need the help or weren’t required to show they used the taxpayer funds to keep workers on the job.

By contrast, about a fifth, $884 billion, went to help workers and families. And even less aimed at the health crisis itself, with 16% of the total going toward testing and tracing, vaccine development, and helping states provide care, among other health-related needs.


Excerpt from book review by Arlie Russell Hochschild’s, whose own most recent book is “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.”

What’s Become of the Common Good?
By Michael J. Sandel
288 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28.

The credentialed have come to imagine themselves as smarter, wiser, more tolerant — and therefore more deserving of recognition and respect — than the noncredentialed. One reason for this, he suggests, lies in our American “rhetoric of rising.” Both rich and poor parents tell their kids, if you try hard enough, you can achieve your goals. For the upper strata, things may work out, but for the downwardly mobile blue collar and poor, there’s a Catch-22. If they fail to reach their goals — which a torpid economy almost guarantees — they blame themselves. If only I could have gotten that degree, they say. Even the poorly educated, Sandel notes, look down on the poorly educated.

Donald Trump has reached out to this group with open arms — “I love the poorly educated.” He has harvested their demoralization, their grief and their shame, most certainly if they are white. But, Sandel notes, two-thirds of all American adults lack four-year degrees. And in the wake of automation, in real wages, the white man without a B.A. earns less now than he did in 1979. The dignity of his labor has steeply declined. And since 1965, high-school-educated men in the very prime of life — 25 to 54 — have been slipping out of the labor force, from 98 percent in 1965 to 85 percent in 2015.

Of all Americans whose highest degree is a high school diploma, in 2017 only 68 percent worked. And with rising deaths of despair, many are giving up on life itself. So you who are highly educated, Sandel concludes, should understand that you’re contributing to a resentment fueling the toxic politics you deplore. Respect the vast diversity of talents and contributions others make to this nation. Empathize with the undeserved shame of the less educated. Eat a little humble pie.

But we are left with an important issue Sandel does not address: the targeting by the right wing of colleges themselves. This isn’t new: Running parallel to the rise of the meritocracy in America has been a suspicion of the egghead who can’t skin a rabbit, build a house or change a tire. As the historian Richard Hofstadter observed in “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” and Tocqueville before him, many Americans have valued not simply the cultivated intelligence of heroes in a culture of merit but also the creative genius of the “common man” in a culture of survival.

Today this has taken a shockingly partisan turn. For the first time in recent history, the less education you have, the more you lean right and distrust higher education itself. In a 2019 Pew survey, 59 percent of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) agree that “colleges have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country these days,” whereas only 18 percent of Democrats (and those leaning left) agree.

So now’s a good time for both sides to sit down for a very serious talk, with “The Tyranny of Merit” required reading for all.