Thanksgiving Game Plan

In about a week you might be off to be face somebody who’s directly responsible for electing Trump. Sitting across from you at the dinner table will be an American voter who elected a charismatic demagogue and white supremacist. If you don’t go in with a strategy you won’t make it to the cranberries before somebody gets stabbed.

Those of us who vote for progressive candidates believe we know more about psychology, politics, human behavior, etc. We’re real smart. We’re so smart we could condescend to our family members for hours about the unfair outsized effect of rural votes, about gerrymandering, about the importance of facts over narrative, and we might last thirty minutes before noting the very real parallels between Trump and Hitler.

However, if we really do know more about psychology then we should know that people are more likely to double-down on their beliefs when those beliefs are challenged. It’s called the Backfire Effect. This is why street preachers never tire and why they also never convince anybody. It’s why religion in general is so resilient and why obviously false ideas like a 7,000-year-old Earth survive for decades or even centuries after they’re disproven. It’s why every scientist in the world believes in climate change and many folks remain unconvinced.

Logic and facts and a frontal attack will only ever push your audience away and make them more committed to the very positions you despise. If you try this at Thanksgiving everyone will leave in a huff feeling like you their family sucks. The stakes are very high but, luckily, it’s an opportunity for a real connection — no matter how dysfunctional they are anybody who invites you to Thanksgiving dinner is somebody who’s cares about you at least a little.

Let’s use overeducation of ours to our advantage. I mean, you’re reading this on Medium for Christ’s sake so the burden of synthesizing narratives and bridging cultures falls to you. This Thanksgiving play a game with your family: Take turns attempting to articulate the perspective of the other side. You’ll probably have to do the hard work of going first. That’s fair. You believe your politics are more enlightened anyway so prove it. First, identify who disagrees with you. Then ask them questions about that disagreement. Figure out what their underlying values are and then do your best to express a position that you think matches theirs. Defend it strongly, make the argument clear, and check with them that you got it right. If you do it properly they’ll have nothing to say but “Yeah. Yeah, that’s about it.” They’ll probably give you an odd look like they really don’t know what to make of you. Having somebody you love show that they understand you can be an unsettling experience.

In the best case scenario they will then reciprocate and will be able to imagine that electing Trump is, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “the end of the America.” But even if they don’t, even if they balk and tell you that your perspective has nothing good in it and that you’re a fool for voting for Hillary, you’ve still moved the world slightly in your favor. Because now there’s someone out there who voted against your beliefs but who knows for sure that you are able to fully comprehend their worldview and then disregard it for something you believe is better. And that is a deep knowledge. That’s a more convincing argument than any list of facts you could share and the next time you disagree with them they may pause just slightly to listen to you.

Bonus: You’ll still have a family and nobody got stabbed.

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