Perhaps we need a little more Thanksgiving and little less Black Friday to cure what is ailing our culture. Perhaps the best way to return God’s gift to our generations of unprecedented wealth and convenience is to focus on the “day of public humiliation and prayer,” as George Washington conceived the first national Thanksgiving, rather than the day of national indulgence.
As a nation, we may have turned away from God, but God sure has not turned away from us. Despite the infinite social and political problems in this country, God continues to bless us with an extraordinary level of bounty and prosperity that would shock our founding leaders, who believed their relative abundance showed a need for a national thanksgiving.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge noted in his annual Thanksgiving message, “An abundant prosperity has overspread the land.” He exhorted the nation to use the abundance to please the giver of that bounty and to lift our spiritual state to equal our physical one. “We shall do well to accept all these favors and bounties with a becoming humility, and dedicate them to the service of the righteous cause of the Giver of all good and perfect gifts,” wrote the quiet and humble 30th president. “As the nation has prospered let all the people show that they are worthy to prosper by rededicating America to the service of God and man.”
As we stand here today, nearly a century later, nobody would wish to live in that era, which Coolidge later referred to as one of “comfort” where “wealth is almost incalculable.” Most people didn’t even have the full bathroom amenities of hot piped water, a bathtub, shower, or a flush toilet in their homes, yet they were happy with their state of being. Why? Because as Coolidge observed in his 1928 Thanksgiving proclamation, the spiritual wealth of the nation grew commensurate with its physical wealth:
Our fields have been abundantly productive; our industries have flourished; our commerce has increased; wages have been lucrative, and comfort and contentment have followed the undisturbed pursuit of honest toil. As we have prospered in material things, so have we also grown and expanded in things spiritual. Through divine inspiration we have enlarged our charities and our missions; we have been imbued with high ideals which have operated for the benefit of the world and the promotion of the brotherhood of man through peace and good will.
Today, the opposite is true. As our spiritual wealth and healthy family life decline precipitously, God continues to bless us with unparalleled material wealth as a nation that makes the advances of the 1920s seem like a period of destitution and scarcity. Thus, any excuse we have for our troubles can certainly not be blamed on God’s open hand. We have every reason to succeed now as a nation, at least from a physical standpoint.
Even years before the era of Black Friday, where the most unfathomable high-tech comforts of life would become available at a cheap cost in a dizzying array of choices, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin taught us American abundance in a local Houston supermarket. On September 16, 1989, Boris Yeltsin made a high-profile visit to Houston’s Johnson Space Center. However, it wasn’t the amazing space technology that impressed him about America and crushed his will to continue pursuing communism in his home country. It was an unscheduled visit to Randall’s supermarket that shocked him, according to his autobiography.
Yeltsin, then a high-ranking Soviet official, reportedly “roamed the aisles of Randall’s nodding his head in amazement” and told those around him that if Russian supermarkets looked like this, “there would be a revolution.” He later wrote of his experience: “When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people.”
What Yeltsin saw in just one local supermarket was a much a greater abundance than what was celebrated in the first Thanksgiving in 1621 – by a factor of a million.
The asymmetry between America and the rest of the world in terms of choices and abundance in food, cars, and other products is still evident today. In fact, even our homeless vagrant population in San Francisco has iPhones that they use to effectively barter goods, according to a recent report by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald.
We have so much food in this country that we don’t know what to do with it. According to the USDA, farm output grew by 170 percent between 1948 and 2015, “even as the amount of labor and land (two major inputs) used in farming declined by about 75 percent and 24 percent, respectively.” Earlier this year, America’s dairy surplus reached a record high with 1.4 billion pounds of cheese. Last year, the USDA reported a 2.5 billion-pound surplus of meat.