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Once a year Americans stop for a day and give thanks, share meals with friends and family, and generally leave aside the daily hubbub that surrounds modern life for a while. Without doubt, citizens in the U.S. have much for which to be thankful — and Montanans, living in the last best place, have even more.

It doesn’t take a long trip from our home state to realize and appreciate that special feeling that comes when we return and cross the state line or deplane to the “Welcome to Montana” signs. And indeed, Montana is still a place where, if your truck or car is stuck in a snowbank, no one asks if you’re a Republican or Democrat before they help you dig out and get back on the road.

In fact, despite the fact that the political talking heads continue to tell us without pause that our nation is torn apart and locked in an internal war between Democrat and Republican partisans, the reality of daily life is much, much different. The truth is, partisan politics play a very small role in the life of most people who are working jobs, supporting their families, raising kids, taking care of aged parents and friends. Politics is the last thing most Montanans think about while walking through the woods or wading in one of our incredible rivers fishing for our world famous wild trout.

Even the political reality of the so-called “two party” system is mostly a myth. There are more people who consider themselves independents than a member of the Democrat or Republican parties. That’s even more true in Montana, where independence is not just valued, it is part and parcel of how we interact with each other and the respect we give each other for the right to have independent views, opinions and lifestyles.

Here, in the great “melting pot” of America, we are in fact one people despite our many and varied differences of race, religion, background and political affiliation, if any. And for that, especially in times of political turmoil, we should all be thankful and remain wary of the machinations of those who would divide and weaken us.

While many claim the highly charged impeachment hearings of the last two weeks are dividing the nation, the truth is that we can all be thankful we live in a country where those hearings are possible. Were it not for our constitutionally established “separate but equal” executive, judicial and legislative branches of government, there would be no way to hold those we place in high office accountable. There would be no way to ensure no one branch of government or no single individual steps outside the boundaries of the law and the rights enumerated in the constitution.

Speaking of constitutional rights, we can equally be thankful for freedom of the press, something many take for granted and which some disparage on a daily basis. None of us will come even close to agreeing with everything we read or hear or watch from the vast array of media now available, but think what it would be like if we only had the “official” media outlets of authoritarian governments.

In the midst of the turkey and trimmings, the pumpkin pie and whipped cream, take a minute to hold your loved ones close — and even spare a tolerant thought for those less loved. And don’t forget to look out the window and revel in the mountains, plains, forests and rivers of Montana, for which those of us lucky enough to live here are grateful every day.

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George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. He can be reached by email at oped@missoulian.com.

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