The Pilgrims did not debate abortion and gay marriage and the right to die at the first Thanksgiving. Nor did they talk with the Native Americans at the table about private property, the environment or the rights of minorities.
But in the tension between the libertarian impulses that brought the Pilgrims to a new land and the strict religion they brought with them, and also in the wary welcome they received from their native hosts, lay the seeds of all the struggles that would rile the nation to come. We should give thanks that through the endless conflicts Americans have had with each other in nearly 400 years of history on this continent, we have miraculously kept on a course toward a more perfect union.
That’s worth remembering in our current polarized era. We will get through it, and we will be better for it.
Today’s Thanksgiving cartoon was first published in 1989, and it well illustrates how the spats between libertarians and social conservatives were as lively then as they are now. The cartoon appears in my fourth collection of cartoons, “The Fall of Man,” published in 1994. That book chronicled the end of the Cold War, the first Bush presidency and the rise of Bill Clinton. I have just published my eighth cartoon book. Titled “Refuge of Scoundrels,” it follows our national journey from the inauguration of President Obama to October’s government shutdown. (You can check it out here.)
When looking through each one of my books, I am reminded how so many issues -- abortion, taxes, big government, states' rights, deficit spending, war and peace, industrial pollution -- seem never to be resolved. Yet, among all those cartoons there are also reminders that positive change does come. Soviet communism lies on the scrap heap of history. Gays and lesbians no longer hide in the shadows. Black children know even the White House is within reach of their ambitions. Each new generation of Americans moves farther from the narrow biases of their ancestors.
Thanksgiving is a good day to remember that sometimes, with enough struggle and debate, we finally get it right.