Below is my column in The Hill on the attacks on the pilgrims on this Thanksgiving Day and why they embodied a critical feature in the history of our country: disagreement. Indeed, the first great act these brave people took upon arriving on these shores was to sign a legal treaty that confirmed:
“In the presence of God and with one another, we solemnly and mutually join together in a civil body policy in order to improve our order and integrity and to achieve the above goals from time to time such just and equal laws, ordinances, laws, constitutions and offices which are deemed most suitable and appropriate for the general good of the colony; to whom we all promise due submission and obedience. “
Here is the column:
Thanksgiving dinners across the nation this year could come with one side of shame. College newspapers have urged students to face their racist relatives, and Abigail Adams of Indiana University of Pennsylvania instructed students on how to “decolonize” Thanksgiving. Expert Jason Johnson declared the holiday to be “Colonizer Christmas” while others have insisted it be called “Thankstaking”.
Despite the growing attacks on the pilgrims, they embodied a defining character of our country as people who refused to conform. The problem with the pilgrims is not that they came to these coasts, but that now, four centuries later, Europe seems to have followed them with the exact kinds of restrictions from which the pilgrims fled, the support of some critical figures the next president could find administration.
Such objections to Thanksgiving could be a reason why the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims’ arrival in November 1620 was hardly celebrated in what is now Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Indeed, most people seem unaware of the anniversary that Voldemorted turned into the “Jubilee That Must Not Be Named”. . . unless it is to be denounced.
There is no doubt that the colonization of our nation resulted in great atrocities against the local population as well as disease and displacement. It’s an indelible and shameful part of our history. In this high-pitched debate, however, there is little room for a full understanding of the pilgrims or who they were. Holiday critics often cast their own simple stereotypes on pilgrims while denouncing similar stereotypes in modern life. Johnson, for example, insists that pilgrims should not be viewed as victims of religious freedom but as part of a “commercial enterprise.”
The pilgrims were really extraordinary individuals with an inspiring story. They were among the persecuted minority known as the English Separatist Church. Expelled from England, they came to the Netherlands to pursue freedom of belief. They eventually came to be known as “nonconformists” for refusing to adhere to Orthodoxy. They later sailed aboard a ship called the Mayflower in search of freedom in the New World. Indeed, their great Mayflower Compact was the first articulation of people’s government and a new “civil policy” in this hemisphere of the world.
The fact that the first settlers were nonconformists has special significance for civil libertarians. Our country has been shaped by nonconformists since the pilgrims landed. After Thomas Paine played a vital role in our independence, he irritated the writers with his words, including John Adams who called him a “shitty bunch”. Nonconformists like Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony demanded full rights for women despite being imprisoned and molested. Nonconformists like Martin Luther King demanded the same rights for African Americans. Nonconformists like Cesar Chavez did this for migrants and Harvey Milk for homosexuals.
This is why Confucius remarked, “A reasonable man can adapt to the world. An unreasonable man wants the world to adapt to him. So all progress is made by unreasonable people. “The pilgrims refused to be silenced to stand up for their values. They show the progress over history that unreasonable nonconformists have produced.
Europe has never generally accepted such mismatch, particularly the type of language protection that defines our constitutional system. In countries like Germany, England and France the language was still being reset. Four centuries later, Europe now seems to be landing here in full force. Several democrats and liberal scholars are calling for censorship and regulation of language in order to achieve greater social harmony. Pilgrims would be the first to warn that harmony for some is conformity for others.
The next government could restrict the language. Joe Biden has called for tech companies to block those people, including Donald Trump, who “spread disinformation” or undermine society. Proponents of voice control often use Orwellian terms like Richard Blumenthal, who called for a “robust content change” on the Internet. The pilgrims would have had no difficulty in understanding the effects of rules, as they were “robustly modified” from Europe.
One of the most terrifying cases of this trend is Richard Stengel, the man chosen to lead the media agency and policy transition team. He wrote a column for the Washington Post last year denouncing the speech as a threat to harmony. He couldn’t convince readers that they needed less freedom. “All speeches are not created equal, and where the truth cannot dispel lies, we have to add new guard rails. I am all for protecting thoughts that we hate, but not language that evokes hatred, ”argued Stengel.
Stengel expressed frustration with his response to Arab diplomats who asked why we tolerate people who curse religion. “Even the most discerning Arab diplomats I have dealt with have not understood why the first amendment allows someone to burn a Quran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that? It was a fair problem. The first amendment protects the thought we hate, but it shouldn’t protect the hateful language that violence by one group against another can cause, ”he wrote.
Stengel was referring to Arab diplomats from an area of the world where people are whipped and even executed for blasphemy. However, he could not give any reason why we would tolerate such freedom of expression. People cannot be forced to conform in the interests of harmony. His view might convince one to board a ship in search of the New World.
The problem is that we don’t have any more places to explore. On this Thanksgiving Day I will celebrate the pilgrims and all nonconformists. One of my students even makes an orange duck in the ultimate act of disagreement. Despite my culinary traditions, I’ll even adopt an orange duck as a dish suitable for further advancement towards blatant disagreement.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.