Opinion | Michael A. Cohen

There are plenty of reasons to be thankful

A pharmacist administers a flu shot to a patient in New York in 2016.
A pharmacist administers a flu shot to a patient in New York in 2016.(Nicole Craine/New York Times)

It’s not easy these days to find life-affirming stories about politics or policy, what with the president using obscene, child-like insults and assaulting the rule of law while more than 14,000 migrant children remain locked up in detention.

But in this week in which we give thanks, there are still plenty of reasons to be thankful and optimistic about the future — even as we must remain focused on the myriad challenges we’re facing.

Let’s start with health care. I am thankful that the number of Americans without health insurance remains historically low. In fact, due to Obamacare, more than 20 million Americans have received access to health care coverage since 2010.


I am less thankful that the Trump administration continues its attempts to weaken and ultimately destroy Obamacare.

I am thankful that in three states — Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah — voters passed ballot referendums expanding Medicaid. The elections of Democratic governors in Kansas and Maine will probably lead to legislation increasing the number of people in those states enrolled in the public health system. In all, 500,000 people are poised to receive health care coverage as a result. Earlier this month, Virginia finally implemented its Medicaid expansion program, which will give an estimated 400,000 Virginians improved health care access.

I am less thankful that two of the largest states in America, Texas and Florida, (as well as a dozen other states) will still make life unnecessarily hard for their most vulnerable citizens by not expanding Medicaid.

Speaking of the 2018 election, I am thankful for Kathy Hoffman, who is a 31-year-old teacher from suburban Phoenix. Nearly two years ago Hoffman watched with great dismay as Betsy Devos stumbled her way through confirmation hearings to be secretary of education. It spurred Hoffman to throw her hat into the political ring. Two weeks ago, she was elected Arizona’s election superintendent.


I’m also thankful for Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was tragically shot and killed by a white motorist for playing his car radio too loud. McBath responded to the tragedy by running for Congress and highlighting the issue of gun control. She narrowly defeated the incumbent, Karen Handel, in Georgia’s sixth district.

Finally, I’m thankful for Ruth Buffalo, who on Nov. 6 became the first female Native American state legislator in North Dakota. She did it by defeating a Republican legislator who had written the state’s voter ID law, which was narrowly tailored to suppress the votes of Native Americans like Ruth Buffalo.

I am thankful that Florida passed a referendum that will restore the right to vote for more than one million former felons.

I am, however, less thankful that gerrymandering and voter suppression continues to distort election outcomes. In North Carolina, Republicans and Democrats split the midterm vote, but because of the way Republicans drew state maps, the GOP won three-quarters of congressional seats. In Wisconsin, Democrats won 54 percent of the vote, and yet Republicans will end with 63 out of 99 seats in the state assembly. In Georgia, Brian Kemp was elected governor by around 50,000 votes. In his previous job as the state’s secretary of state, he purged more than two million voters from the rolls over six years.


As the father of two daughters I’m particularly thankful that when all the votes are counted there will be about 120 women in Congress.

I am less thankful that this number is so low.

I am thankful that even at a time of strong economic growth and low unemployment, Americans have a strongly negative view of Donald Trump. I am even more thankful that Americans turned out to vote in the midterm election at the highest rate since 1914.

I am less thankful that 50 percent of Americans voting in a midterm election is historically high.

I am thankful that trying to take away people’s health insurance and cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans can still cause you to lose your job.

I am thankful that the murder rate in the United States is at its lowest point in 33 years — and that “the number of serious crimes committed nationwide fell for the eighth year in a row.’’

I am less thankful that the homicide rate in Baltimore, St. Louis, and Chicago is so high.

I am thankful that the percentage of Americans in prison or jail is at a 20-year low.

I am less thankful that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

If I step back and look at the world around us, I’m thankful that the global poverty rate is below 10 percent and that over the past 25 years more than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty.


I’m thankful that Guinea Worm disease, which 30 years ago caused agonizing suffering for 3.5 million people, has largely been eradicated.

I’m thankful that the global maternal mortality rate has dramatically fallen.

I’m less thankful that in America it is actually increasing.

I’m thankful that as of 2016, global life expectancy had increased by five years since 2000. I’m far less thankful that US life expectancy is moving in the opposite direction — likely decreasing in 2018 for the third straight year.

I’m thankful that in Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people, nascent democratic renewal

is emerging. I’m also thankful that Liberia

and Iraq this year had peaceful democratic transitions.

I’m less thankful that a global trend on political freedom and human rights is far more negative, with countries like the Philippines, Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and China taking troubling steps backward.

I’m thankful that even as the president of the United States regularly demeans journalists and labels us “enemies of the people,” the free press in America remains vibrant and vital.

I’m less thankful that I even need to point this out.

I’m thankful that scientists have finally figured out why wombat poop is shaped like a cube.


I’m even more thankful that I don’t actually have to do this research.

I’m less thankful that scientists have not been able to convince enough people in positions of power to take the threat of climate change seriously.

Above all, I’m thankful for my kids, who every day give me hope that the future will be brighter than the present. Happy Thanksgiving.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.