Stop Avoiding Politics at Thanksgiving
“Politics and religion,” your grandmother would always say — the two topics she never wanted discussed at family gatherings during the holidays.
That ends now.
As you head into Thanksgiving, you’re bracing for what will likely be the nadir of obnoxious family gatherings:
- Grandma who is more concerned with her candied yams than with her own dysfunctional family dynamic: “Oh just ignore them, dear… can you get another bag of sugar for me?”
- Uncle Bob who listens to Rush Limbaugh: “How was your trip to Europe? Did the Mooslims try to make you follow Sharia law? I hear they’re everywhere over there now…”
- Aunt Beth who stopped sending birthday cards when she found out you were an atheist: “Well, I’m sure our lord and savior Jesus Christ will make sure everything turns out alright… you should really come to church.”
- Brother Dan who yells at the football game and drinks Corona in the middle of November: “The ‘Washington Team’?! Why can’t they just say Redskins? I’m so tired of political correctness.”
- Sister Angela who always manages to make the chardonnay-infused conversation about her children: “Protests in Portland? Well Lincoln and Siabnohnn (pr. Shannon) made the most adorable paper turkeys at preschool!”
- Cousin Laura whose saccharine social media posts are comprised of puppy pictures, quizzes about which Jonas brother she’ll marry, and selfies in the dressing room at Marshall’s: “I just want the negativity to stop…” (cue tears)
Americans have a bad habit of deferring to meaningless conversation under the pretext that it’s better to have fluffy, empty interactions than deep existential discussions. Anti-intellectualism is a force of habit now rather than a conscious action: we’d rather be entertained and deluded than see, think, and discuss.
“How are you?”
No, actually, you’re not fine. The closest thing we’ve seen to Mussolini in America has just been elected president by an electoral system weighted in favor of rural simpletons and he’s now appointing white supremacists to his cabinet.
You’re not fucking fine.
You’re dying inside and everyone you know and love is telling you to stifle it, keep quiet, and not ruffle any feathers during the holidays, as if just pretending the problem doesn’t exist will make it go away.
“Just give me this one day…” your mother begins.
“Be polite,” she says.
“Civil disagreement is polite, mom.”
“Just don’t upset your Uncle Bob,” she pleads.
“His racism should upset you, mom.”
And you’re not sorry for it. The line must be drawn. Because you’re not all “just Americans” who can “put aside their differences for one day.”
Not this time.
This is not normal and it will never be normal.
You believe that all humans deserve equal treatment under law, equitable standing in civil society, and a culture that promotes and defends justice. And for that, you will speak out — even at sacrosanct family dinners of overcooked turkey and root vegetable dishes.
You know that one of the key reasons Trump’s electoral college victory came as a surprise is that Americans, by refusing to have tough conversations, by avoiding confrontation, by maintaining the status quo, have chosen a false peace, ignorant of reality, over meaningful dialogue.
Still waters reflecting our favorite quarterbacks, work challenges, and the kids’ new art teacher belie deep seated racism, homophobia, nationalism, and xenophobia.
We like the icing, but not the cake… the reward, but not the responsibility.
In fact, the truth about Uncle Bob and sister Angela scares the shit out of you because it means confronting 1) the side of yourself that whitewashes family into better people than they truly are and 2) the family you’ve been pressured into accepting even though they lack a decent moral core to inform their actions.
You are not obligated to love your family. No one can guilt you, shame you, or pressure you into loving the deplorables in your family tree — and letting this Thanksgiving slide by without a healthy, civil debate sets a terrible precedent for normalizing Darth Trump’s ascent to power.
It’s not normal and you won’t let it be normal.
You know it won’t be easy. It will require taking some conversations offline, meeting Uncle Bob for coffee so he doesn't feel threatened in front of everyone, telling Laura that you’d really like to hear more of her thoughts on current events.
You know it will require a cool head, kind words, and genuine curiosity. You will seek first to understand, then to be understood, knowing that it takes an agonizing time for the circular logic of conservatism and religion to finally destroy itself against common ground beliefs about humanity.
You know women didn’t get the right to vote by staying quiet.
You know segregation wasn’t ended by staying quiet.
You know marriage equality didn’t gain momentum by staying quiet.
You know democracy won’t be protected by staying quiet.
Talk about it.