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Permanent Loss of Respect: Stemming the Demise of Thanksgiving and American Democracy

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kurly@stevenkurlander.com

This week, Americans will gather together with their family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The original American Thanksgiving was a holiday designated as a religious celebration of the abundance and good fortune of living in this country.

Sad to say, Thanksgiving is not what it used to be. Like many of our American institutions, the holiday has lost a lot of significance.

Today, Thanksgiving is all about football, gluttony, and now even sensational shopping rather than a celebration of the goodness and bounty of our land and our people.

Much of our lack of respect of Thanksgiving comes down to a societal impudence for our great American institutions.

Most of us are just too uncaring, uninformed, and unappreciative -- and fed up too. We are a spoiled people with little knowledge of how much freedom, and even food, the United States provides its citizens.

Take Congress for example. It's a critical democratic institution that Americans take for granted -- and that's dangerous.

If you believe recent polling, the percentage of Americans who believe that Congress is doing a good job is in the single digits.

And that lack of faith is well deserved these days. Congress doesn't work much anymore.

The 2014 Calendar of the House of Representatives released recently by Majority Leader Eric Cantor shows that our congressman will be working only 113 days in Congress. They will have the entire month of August and most of October off.

And the number of bills passed by Congress continues to decrease year by year. This year's Congress has passed just 52 laws since it gaveled into session in January.

And you have to wonder ala Obamacare if they actually read the bills that were passed.

But while members of Congress invoke, and probably deserve, little respect these days, it's important not to have that disrespect translate into a permanent weakening of the institution itself.

Congress was designed and serves as an important power not just to pass laws and finance the government, but more importantly to check the power of both the presidency and the judiciary branch.

And serving in Congress is still one of the toughest jobs in the world, particularly if you try to do it right and serve your constituents. While many will scoff, congressmen make serious sacrifices. They are often away from their families, earn less money than they would make in the private sector and even risk their lives in performing the terms of office.

It's plain and simple: Congress is in shambles mostly because of bad leadership on both sides of the aisle.

And now, class-warfare politics and ideological dysfunction have infected some in Congress, which threatens the integrity of the institution.

For example, last week Democratic congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee proposed banning the payment of "death gratuities" to the families of deceased members of Congress after a $174,000 gratuity was paid to the widow of multimillionaire Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

Congressional watchdog groups and Cooper questioned the payments because most members of Congress are affluent and have their own life insurance policies and plans.

Yet, no matter how rich you are, shouldn't there be a reward for serving your country in an important role, much like we view the sacrifices of our military men and women?

Because of Lautenberg's service, Mrs. Lautenberg deserved every penny of the payment.

It goes back to recognizing what is important in this country.

Just because we have a lot of turkeys serving in Congress these days, it doesn't mean Americans should continue to lose faith in our government, belittle politicians, and condone the weakening of any branch of our government. That will eventually lead to a breakdown of American democracy.

Dinnertime this Thanksgiving is a good time to start thinking and talking about how much we value and understand our country.

We as a nation need to start appreciating once again the greatness and strength of America. And maybe start to recognize and understand that national holidays should not be celebrated as mere excuses for shopping or eating to excess.

Puiblished in Florida Context on November 27,2013