Dos and Don’ts for Surviving the Holidays with your Trump Voting Relatives and Friends: A Solidarity Sundays Guide.
For many of us, a vote for Trump is a vote for hate. It is equivalent to a personal endorsement of continued violence against people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and the environment going against our own moral and ethical code. But what if that Trump supporter is your brother in law that you are sitting next to at Thanksgiving? Instead of shoving your uncle’s head into a bowl of mashed potatoes, we recommend you try to use this family gathering as a chance to learn and start building connections that can hopefully change perceptions in the long run. After all, you don’t come home for the holidays for a battle — you come for the love.
If you and your family members are white, please consider the moral, ethical, and political obligation that you have when it comes to talking honestly about this election. White people elected this President, and white people who DIDN’T vote for him need to find ways to speak to the white people who did. We’re not saying it’s easy, and we’re not saying that the holidays are the best time to do it. But we are saying it’s important.
Solidarity Sundays has created the following suggested Dos and Don’ts guidelines to help prepare you for the upcoming holidays and any political landmines/future feuds that might be brewing at the table.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR THE EVENT
DO: decide whether or not you WANT to go.
It is ok to not go home for the holidays. It is ok to instead seek comfort and connection with friends over the holidays. Family members may be disappointed or hurt, yet self care is vital given the work that lies ahead. Also, waiting to interact with family members at some other time may be strategic in the long run. If you do decide to attend family holiday gatherings, we have laid out some suggestions below.
DO: be clear with your own intentions.
Ahead of the gathering, get clear on the following:
· Decide what you want to get out of the visit with family
· Decide if and how much you want to engage with Trump supporting family members regarding the election/politics? If not, be prepared to firmly state you are not going to discuss politics. Decide what you will do if your assertion is ignored. Walk away? Leave? Whatever it is, have a plan.
· Do you think sharing your perspectives will have a beneficial outcome? For you? Others?
DO: be aware of your limits and where you stand.
We all have that line. Know yours and know when to leave, if necessary. If it is too much, be ready to tell people that, “even though I love you, this isn’t something I’m available to hear right now.” Have a plan for leaving early if necessary. Have a plan for someone you can call if you need emotional support.
AT THE TABLE
DO: set conversation rules.
You can decide as a family beforehand to not talk about politics at the table. It may be strategic to leave those conversations for more one-on-one opportunities where you can be more intimate and more open with your perspectives and feelings. Even if you choose not to discuss politics with your relatives, they may be tempted to gloat. If this occurs, you can walk away, deflect to another topic, like someone’s recent positive job change or a niece’s school achievement, something positive and not political.
DON’T: get drunk.
Although it is DEEPLY TEMPTING, drinking to excess normally means looser lips and higher emotions, which aren’t needed in already charged social situations. This is to protect yourself! If relatives get drunk and become aggressive, have a plan to get away. Plot with a trusted family member, if possible. If you’re sober/in recovery, know in advance where and when you can find a meeting, or have in mind a few people you can reach out to if needed.
DO: ask questions.
If you are comfortable discussing politics, there might be a desire to remind Trump voters that the majority of people actually did vote for Hillary and bury them in stories about how heinous Trump is, or other similar approaches. Instead ask questions that go beyond why they voted for Trump. When asking these types of questions, the goal should be to get beyond the rhetoric into the real emotions — hopes, dreams, fears, and frustrations that fuel their perspective on things. You don’t have to focus on the candidates at all. Instead talk about actions. Example questions can be:
· What changes are you hoping to see in 2017?
· How do you think this will impact your family?
· How do you think we can connect this divided country?
· What is the one thing that you learned from the 2016 election?
Try to be an active listener, which means to pay close attention to the emotions behind the words, as well as the actual words, taking into account the speaker’s body language (are they nervous? Are they shifting and not holding eye contact? Is their voice trembling?). Use open-ended questions like:
· So, tell me a little bit about XYZ?
· How did/do you experience XYZ?
· How stressful have things been for you before the election?
· In what ways has the election affected you?
· What are your hopes for 2017? And beyond?
When people feel heard, they generally soften, they start to feel more relaxed, they open up and become more receptive. This may provide an opportunity for more mutual exchange.
DO: consider your body language.
If your Trump-supporting relative is driving you crazy, it’s easy to show that non-verbally — think frowns, folded arms, heavy sighs, head shaking, finger wagging, etc. As you listen, try to stay open, level and calm. It’s tough to make any progress if you’re nose-to-nose over the green bean casserole. Pro tip: sit next to, or around the table corner, from your family’s Trump fan — not opposite.
DO: personalize it.
One way to get your point across is to tell stories or experiences of people you know or you read about who have been harassed openly. These stories can be a deeply powerful tool in letting people know that THIS is happening right now and locally and that you are very distressed by this news.
DO: try to end on common ground if the discussion is productive.
Now that you’ve listened to your family member, you may be able to find a similar story of your own. When you find the common ground, you can connect it to your larger beliefs and by doing so, you have a chance to help widen your relative’s thought process on major issues that are important to you as a humanitarian.
DO: ask for action.
If your relative is sympathetic to the plight of people currently being abused, ask them to be part of actions to prevent it. Explain that you see it as the responsibility of us all to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. As a person who acknowledges their white privilege and is aware of your own white fragility and speaks up for the rights of others, it is your duty to help other white people understand that their actions (i.e. their vote for Trump) means something deeply negative. If they claim they “aren’t racist” or aren’t “against” gays/women/differently abled people/immigrants/Muslims, then what actions are they prepared to do to stand by these people who are in real danger during a Trump presidency? Offer to help them by providing them information on contacting politicians, etc. This takes the conversation OUT of the realm of bad mouthing Trump or getting into rhetoric, but focuses on the action. Then hold them to it by checking back in at least every month to continue the conversation.
REMEMBER: THINGS YOU NEVER HAVE TO DO:
- You don’t have to say that Trump is a good person or that you want to give him a chance.
- You don’t have to continue to be empathetic when you are not receiving empathy back.
- You don’t have to take any verbal abuse. Your views are as valid as theirs. Your lifestyle is as valid as theirs. Period.
- You don’t have to listen to any racial or homophobic/transphobic slurs and not shut them down. Although there is research that says that calling out a racist only sets them deeper into their beliefs, it is a tough conversation to have. Here are some great responses to racial bigotry you might hear over dinner.
Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you are emotionally grounded enough to do this work, asking questions, actively listening, seeking to really understand, being slow or delayed (or even waiting until asked) in sharing your own perspective — this approach can sometimes dramatically shift the dynamic of a conversation. Again, to help manage your own emotions going in, decide this is your approach and have a plan if it goes sideways or you find yourself losing it.
Good luck and happy Thanksgiving!