Some time during this Thanksgiving season, the president will issue a proclamation. It’s a tradition as old as the Republic, as is the fact that no one will pay any attention to it.
Other than ones issued by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln (expressing profound thanks during the bleakest days of the Civil War) and maybe Franklin Roosevelt who, in the worst days of World War II, asked for “a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas,” most of these were quickly forgotten, if ever noticed in the first place.
The annual pardoning of a turkey gets at least a mention on news reports. Not so proclamations. These have become politically safe and boring.
In 1919, Woodrow Wilson didn’t even mention the flu pandemic that took the lives of about 675,000 Americans. Instead, he said, “In spite of the confusion in our economic life resulting from the war we have prospered.” And absolutely no one remembers it.
Which is why it’s time to revive something I suggested six years ago. Any president who wants to issue a meaningful Thanksgiving proclamation that will be forever enshrined in memory has only to do one audacious thing: Provide a list of things he is thankful for about his political opponents.
Imagine the uproar.
Then, imagine the healing.
This would have to be a sincere and meaningful list, free from snark. Merely saying, “I’m grateful for Nancy Pelosi because she finds ways to get nice haircuts at a fancy San Francisco salon even when her constituents are prohibited from doing the same” wouldn’t cut it.
Let me be clear, I’m not picking on Donald Trump. Six years ago I said the same about Barack Obama, and he ignored me, too.
But if any chief executive would follow this course, it would immediately put pressure on every other office holder in his party to do the same, and then the questions would come to the opposite party. “Your rival in the other party said this about you. Would you like to respond?”
It could save the republic.
This is not a joke. Researchers have, in recent years, demonstrated convincingly that actively expressing gratitude leads to better physical and mental health.
The journal of the Harvard Medical School reported that psychologists Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami asked two groups of participants to keep journals each week, focusing on specific topics. One group was to write about things they were grateful for that happened that week. A second group wrote about things that had displeased them. A third group was asked only to write about things that affected them, with no other instruction.
“After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives,” a report in Harvard Health Publishing said. “Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”
Emmons runs a website with the title, “Gratitude works.” He also cites a study involving adults with neuromuscular disease, who experienced greater energy, more positive moods, a greater sense of connection with others, more optimism and better sleep after “a 21-day gratitude intervention.”
“The key,” Emmons told the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, “is not to leave it on the Thanksgiving table.” It’s one thing to have to come up with something nice to say about a family member when your turn comes around the table; something quite different to do so spontaneously throughout the year.
Social media has been a little nicer place recently after President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints asked people to turn it into a gratitude journal for a week. Suddenly, Facebook feels different. It’s a place to go for lifting things up, instead of putting things down.
Imagine if the guy with the bully pulpit in Washington just started small, with even a simple, “I’m grateful for the sincere public service offered by Democrats.” It might prove to be good politics.
It certainly would be better for the rest of us than anything we had for dessert Thursday afternoon.