WASHINGTON — "So this is how it's going to work today," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed the press corps Monday. She told reporters that "if you want to ask a question," you should "start off with what you're thankful for."
Like good little girls and boys, several obliged. The reporters were grateful for their children, their spouses, their health and the privilege of getting to ask questions at the White House. Then there was John Gizzi of Newsmax, thankful to his wife "for saying yes on the fourth request. My question is about Zimbabwe … "
I prefer to share my thoughts of gratitude with my family at the Thanksgiving table, rather than when commanded to by a Trump mouthpiece. But maybe Sanders was onto something with her infantilizing of the press corps. Maybe in this week of Thanksgiving, we all should speak about what we are grateful for in public life. I'll start.
Sarah, I am thankful for the checks and balances the Founders put in place, for they are what stand between us and despotism when a demagogic president's instincts would take us there. And I am profoundly grateful to the many men and women who, often at great personal cost and risk, have stood up to the authoritarian in the White House. President Trump has done much damage, particularly to our international standing and our civil culture, but it would be so much worse without these profiles in courage.
I'm thankful for James Comey, who was fired because he refused to be bullied by Trump into curtailing the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
I'm thankful for Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who after an initial stumble redeemed himself by naming a special counsel to carry on the Russia probe.
I'm thankful for Robert Mueller III, like Comey a veteran of both Republican and Democratic administrations, who is pursuing the probe without yielding to Trump's trash talk.
I'm thankful for Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and others who are trying to maintain international order and to fill the void in world leadership left by Trump's retreat.
I'm thankful for Sally Yates, who forced Trump to fire her as acting attorney general rather than enforce his unconstitutional ban on travelers from Muslim-majority nations.
I'm thankful for Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush appointee, who blocked the travel ban and endured taunts from Trump of being a "so-called judge" who should be blamed if violence occurred.
I'm thankful that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld Robart's ruling.
I'm thankful for Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), whose outspoken criticism of Trump derailed their political careers, and to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), fighting Trump's "half-baked, spurious nationalism" even as he fights brain cancer, and to GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) for resisting Trump's excesses.
I'm thankful to Republican Govs. John Kasich (Ohio), Brian Sandoval (Nev.), Charlie Baker (Mass.) and others who fought Trump-backed efforts to repeal Obamacare without an adequate replacement.
I'm thankful to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for maintaining some international stability while Trump spreads chaos, and to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for reportedly calling Trump a "moron" and national security adviser H.R. McMaster for reportedly calling Trump an "idiot" with the intelligence of a "kindergartner."
I'm thankful for George W. Bush, who spoke out against the "nativism," "casual cruelty," "bigotry" and "conspiracy theories and outright fabrication" that have risen with Trump.
I'm thankful for my colleagues Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin, George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer and for many other conservative intellectuals who routinely denounce Trump's betrayal of conservatism and decency.
I'm thankful for my many colleagues in the Washington Post newsroom and elsewhere (even at the failing New York Times) who have exposed the administration's abuses, and for the fearless editors and owners who let them do that work.
I'm thankful for the many civil servants in the federal government who refuse to bend the facts to suit this administration's whims, and for the whistleblowers and, yes, the "leakers" who reveal Trump's abuses.
I'm thankful to the voters of Virginia and elsewhere, who gave us a first sign that Trump's scourge of nationalism and race-baiting can be repelled.
And I'm profoundly thankful that Trump and so many of his appointees have turned out to be incompetent, unable to implement some of his most dangerous ideas.
In short, Sarah, I am thankful that a combination of brave people, brilliant Framers and dumb luck have prevented your boss from doing much worse.
— Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank