This is the week we pause to give thanks. It is especially important this year, because we have learned since last Thanksgiving that we can no longer take many of our blessings for granted.
I am thankful for the many great Fayette County Public Schools teachers who taught me more than workforce development skills.
There was the second-grade teacher who posted a “picture of the week” on her blackboard to make us aware of famous works of art. And the fifth-grade teacher who played records during study time to introduce us to classical music.
In high school, there was the English teacher who launched my career in journalism; others who got me excited about the power of literature; the social studies teacher who ignited my interest in politics and public issues; and the band director who taught me how to achieve excellence through teamwork.
I also am thankful for the next generation of Fayette County Public School teachers who educated my daughters after we moved back to Kentucky. I hope yet another generation of them will be there when my grandchildren are older.
But I can’t take that for granted, especially if Gov. Matt Bevin succeeds in degrading public employee pension systems. Aside from altruism, good pensions are a reason many intelligent people enter the high-stress, low-pay world of public education. They don’t expect to get rich; they just don’t want to die poor.
If Bevin’s plan succeeds, how will Kentucky continue to attract good people to public education? Or other avenues of public service? State and local government employees are the backbone of Kentucky communities, and we should be thankful for the work they do, often for less pay than they could earn in private industry.
I also am thankful for the high-quality, low-cost education I got at Western Kentucky University during the late 1970s. This was a time when Kentucky’s General Assembly believed that higher education was essential to progress, and that sufficient amounts of tax revenue must be generated to fund it.
But we can no longer take affordable higher education for granted. The horrible tax plan that U.S. House Republicans recently passed would cut benefits for higher education by more than $60 billion in the coming decade to help pay for tax cuts for rich people and corporations. It would raise taxes on many graduate students, punish those with student debt and force colleges to further increase tuition and fees.
Kentuckians know all about rising tuition and fees. The cost of higher education in this state has soared over the past two decades as weak-kneed governors and legislators repeatedly cut education funding so they won’t be accused of raising anyone’s taxes. Their actions have priced many families out of college or forced them to take on a lot of student debt.
I was able to graduate with no student debt. College was inexpensive then, and I was able to support myself much of that time thanks to a good-paying union job I had for two summers. (This was also before union-busting became Kentucky’s official public policy.)
I am thankful for world peace, or at least what passes for it. Sure, we still have troops in Afghanistan 15 years after we invaded that country, and in Iraq 14 years after we invaded that one. There is still a lot of terrorism, committed by both Islamic extremists and home-grown gun nuts.
But I no longer take for granted that nuclear war is unthinkable, because, unlike his predecessors, President Donald Trump doesn’t seem to think so. He threatens and tweets, diminishes diplomacy, builds up the military and sows chaos to distract people.
In response to a question at an international security forum recently, the nation’s senior nuclear weapons officer, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, said that if Trump issued an “illegal” order to launch a nuclear strike he would disobey it. Think about that a moment. Can you imagine this discussion taking place before Trump?
I am thankful for God’s creation, and for advances in modern science. But we can no longer take either for granted. Trump and his appointees are weakening environmental protections and ignoring the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change. They dismiss the views of scientists in favor of well-heeled corporate polluters. And they are seeking huge cuts in scientific and medical research.
It is Thanksgiving week, and I know I should be in a better mood. I am truly thankful for family and friends, health and home, and for my many other blessings.
But I also am worried. There are too many turkeys running around these days, and I don’t mean the ones bound for dinner tables.