Advice columns abound instructing leftists on how to endure the misery of conversing with conservative relatives at Thanksgiving. The genre has become a holiday tradition. The L.A. Times outlined “what to do if your crazy right-wing uncle comes to Thanksgiving.” The New York Times explained “How to have a conservation with your crazy [conservative] uncle over the holidays.” Mother Jones warned, “You won’t change your cranky conservative uncle in one dinner conversation.” Someone seems cranky, but I don’t think it’s your conservative uncle.
The articles always run in one direction, preparing leftists for their annual interaction with a conservative. One rarely, if ever, sees a think piece bracing conservatives to deal with their crazy leftist nieces. What would be the need? Politics might be religion for the Left, but conservatives understand there is more to life than politics. Besides, we live in a leftist culture. We encounter leftism every time we turn on a screen. We understand their arguments better than they understand ours, and we don’t need to spoil our dinner with banal bickering over politicians.
For the Left, Thanksgiving is about politics; for the Right, politics is about thanksgiving. The different approaches to holiday conversation come from opposing views of politics. The leftist vision of politics as a matter of rights begets an attitude of grievance and entitlement. If ”the political is the personal,” as the radicals of the 1960s insisted, then all personal interactions must take on an activist agenda. As GQ told its left-wing audience, “It’s your civic duty to ruin Thanksgiving by bringing up Trump this Turkey Day,” urging them to “consider making life HELL for a few of your relatives.”
The conservative vision regards politics more as a matter of gratitude than entitlement—duty over rights. We have inherited so much: a wonderful country, a culture of freedom and abundance, even our life itself, earned through no effort of our own but bequeathed as a gift from our forefathers. The leftist unease at Thanksgiving represents an unease with thanksgiving more generally. Revisionist attacks on our Pilgrim forefathers at Plymouth express a fundamental ingratitude for the country they gave us.
In certain leftist circles, it has become fashionable to refer to Thanksgiving as the ”National Day of Mourning” to commemorate rather than celebrate alleged Puritan crimes against defenseless Native Americans. This anti-historical narrative commits a grave injustice to both the English and the Indians: it robs the Pilgrims of their virtue and the Indians of their dignity. Worst of all, the revisionism fuels the grievance politics that ails our nation four centuries after the landing of the Mayflower.
Your left-wing niece won’t change her right-wing uncle’s voting habits over mashed potatoes, you won’t change hers, and who really cares anyway? De gustibus non est disputandum—there’s no accounting for taste. A more edifying topic for the Thanksgiving table than debates over political preference is the history of Thanksgiving itself, an objective fact despite decades of revision.
The sheer providence of the Mayflower’s landing should amaze even the most hardened skeptic. After an arduous journey marked by treachery, delays, and storms that blew the ship hundreds of miles off course, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth in December of 1620. The passengers passed the first winter on the ship, fearing hostile weather and even more hostile natives. When the Pilgrims disembarked in early spring, they met the Abenaki sagamore Samoset, who greeted them with two words: “Welcome, Englishmen!”
Samoset possessed a startling but bare knowledge of English, acquired after meeting some British fishermen in Maine. Fortunately, Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, a Patuxet Indian who had been abducted, brought to Spain as a slave, freed by Catholic monks, likely baptized, ferried to London, and somehow returned to Newfoundland. When he arrived back in North America, Squanto made his way down the coast, discovered that his tribe had been wiped out by disease, and ended up as a captive of the Pokanoket sachem Massasoit precisely at the spot where the Mayflower had accidentally landed. The Pilgrims had found the one Indian in the Western Hemisphere with a command of their language, their native land, and their religion.
Squanto brokered an alliance between the Plymouth colonists and Massasoit, who used the English to oppose the Narragansetts and establish the Wampanoag nation. The English and the natives celebrated this new partnership in October 1621 with a three-day festival of Thanksgiving. The alliance nearly broke down when the settlers refused to hand Squanto to Massasoit, who hoped to kill the Patuxet interpreter for perceived treachery. The Pilgrims refused and saved Squanto’s life, a service they performed for Massasoit himself in 1623. On his deathbed, Massasoit called for Plymouth colonist Edward Winslow to bid him farewell. But Winslow refused to say goodbye and managed to revive the sachem with medicine, a tongue-scraping, and chicken broth. Massasoit in turn repaid that favor by warning the English of an impending attack from the Massachusetts tribe, which the English repelled with the help of Wampanoag forces.
The partnership between the English and the Wampanoags lasted through the death of Squanto, who asked on his deathbed that Governor Bradford pray for him so that he “might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.” The friendship lasted through the death of Massasoit, who cherished the friendship of the English to his last days. It even persisted through the reign of Massasoit’s son Alexander and only broke down in 1675, when Massasoit’s younger son Philip mistakenly blamed the English for Alexander’s death. That misunderstanding led to three years of brutal warfare that pitted various Indian tribes against one another and forever destroyed the close relations of the natives to the settlers.
Your left-wing niece has probably never heard that story, having learned instead the revisionist propaganda that depicts the Plymouth colonists as inhuman and their native neighbors as sub-human. In reality, they were men, English and Indian, in all their complexity and all their imperfection. They were neither angels nor devils. In fact, they bore a striking resemblance to us, albeit perhaps a bit more courageous, accomplished, and dignified. We remain neither angels nor devils—even the crazy conservative uncles. The ideological view of past and present may provoke grievance and resentment, but the reality inspires thanksgiving.