The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: Being “Thankful” in Trump’s America

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Donald Trump wants to make America grateful again — one tweet at a time.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a somewhat thankless job, which may explain why she chose to avoid going through its usual routine last Monday. Instead, she preferred to mimic a teacher in an elementary school lesson forcing the children to internalize the duty of being “thankful.”

It’s November and ‘tis the season to be thankful. The government and its institutions can’t ask for anything better. The background logic appears to be that if people are made to feel thankful, they will stop complaining and appreciate or at least tolerate the constraints put upon you or the injustices you condemn. So, whatever your worries or whatever injustices you’ve suffered, don’t forget to be thankful.

Here is its 3D definition:

Thankful:

A way of acknowledging one’s dependence on what others have done that has served to reward the thankful person with deserved or undeserved privileges, honors or material benefits; a formally expressed acceptance of the status quo.

Contextual note

Huckabee Sanders herself offers gratefulness as a synonym of thankfulness. But there is a clear semantic distinction between the two words. Both signify a kind of mental state, as opposed to gratitude, which signifies the recognition of a specific favor.

“Gratefulness” designates an inner feeling of well-being with one’s environment and the recognition of good fortune. It is more impersonal than thankfulness, which implies owing thanks, explicitly and verbally expressed, to someone else. In other words, the acceptance of a position of at least temporary if not permanent subservience.

Huckabee Sanders began the press briefing by reciting what she was thankful for. She then opened the questioning period with the following statement: “I think it’s only fair, since I’ve shared what I’m thankful for, that you start off with what you’re thankful for.”

In a clever rhetorical ploy designed for the specific context of US culture, she managed to appeal to three powerful notions: 1) “sharing,” meaning an exceptional act of generosity in a culture where property is inalienable and everything is expected to have an individual owner; 2) the notion of “fairness”; 3) “thankfulness.” Fairness of course translates as “equally distributed, whether bad or good, justified or unjustified,” meaning that so long as quantitative balance is observed, all qualitative distinctions are irrelevant. This is the one case in which two wrongs actually can make a right (related to the notion of “getting even”). In other words, it simply means “an equal amount on both sides,” whatever the sides.

“Thankfulness” implies, as indicated above, “a formally expressed acceptance of the status quo.” The combined result is a form of intimidation on three levels: 1) I did it out of the goodness of my heart, with total generosity, for which I should be admired; 2) since I did it, you have to do it as well, those are the rules of the game; 3) you must show how much you appreciate the status quo.

In an interesting twist on the theme, Donald Trump “taunted [LaVar] Ball, the father of a US basketball player detained for shoplifting in China, calling him an ‘ungrateful fool.’” Sensitive to the importance of giving thanks in the run-up to Thanksgiving, Trump turned this into a national issue. Ball had failed in his sacred duty to thank Trump publicly and effusively for repatriating his son.

Historical note

The historical meaning of Thanksgiving, if there is one that makes any sense, has become buried — as so many things have — in the complex forms of ritual celebration engineered and executed by the media, politicians and the corporate interests that exploit the holiday to give impetus to their end-of-year marketing campaigns.

As I wrote a year ago, for the Thanksgiving that immediately followed Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election: Thanks to the vague historical associations Americans acquire in school and from the media, “the thanking referred to in the idea of Thanksgiving is a gratitude explicitly addressed to the Puritans’ 17th century God, presumably the same God who is called upon to bless today’s America at the end of every political speech.” That God predestined the US to lead the world and shower prosperity on all those assertive enough to deserve it.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey

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