5 disparate ways to talk about politics with your family at Thanksgiving
- Thanksgiving is a day for family, mediocre NFL games, voracious caloric consumption, and quite often, political arguments that quickly devolve into fruitless acrimony.
- The internet is filled with advice takes on how to politically engage your adversarial relatives at dinner.
- The advice runs the gamut from meditation and deference to call-outs and conflict escalation.
Thanksgiving is a day for family, mediocre NFL games, voracious caloric consumption, and quite often - political arguments that quickly devolve into fruitless acrimony.
In what has become a pre-Thanksgiving tradition, the interwebs are awash with advice on how to politically engage your adversarial relatives at dinner.ABC News correspondent Dan Harris recommends in Men's Health meditation before entering the Turkey Day family maelstrom, followed by a three-step process:
- "Don't try to change minds. ... Instead, go in with the goal of simply trying to understand where people are coming from."
- "Make 'I' statements rather than truth statements. ... For example, a Democrat might have better luck saying to a Trump supporter, 'I'm worried that President Trump may be violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution' rather than 'The president is irredeemably corrupt, and you're a horrible person for supporting him.'"
- "Don't characterize the other side's opinion; just characterize your own. ... For instance, a pro-Trumper would be advised to say, 'I'm worried about higher taxes damaging the economy' rather than 'You Democrats just want to feed at the trough of a bloated welfare state.'"
Writing in The New York Times, Lisa Lerer also dispenses some peacekeeping advice.
- "Don't mention President Trump," Lerer advises, citing a SurveyMonkey poll showing "37% of respondents saying mention of the president was most likely to start an argument" - regardless of the respondents' political party.
- "Focus on the food."
- "Lay down the law," by declaring some topics off-limits and "starting the night with a toast to civility."
- "Forget about winning."
But not all Thanksgiving survival advice is conciliatory. Also in The New York Times, Karen Tamerius introduces an interactive bot representing your dreaded "angry uncle," and a game plan on how to convince him that you are right and he is wrong - but only if he's conservative. If he's liberal, you should defer to his wisdom.
Amy McCarthy writes in Eater.com that "you have an obligation to push back against harmful rhetoric simply because others do not," which in McCarthy's view includes calling out problematic relatives not just for odious racism and homophobia, but also controversial yet mainstream political positions such as support for the Second Amendment.
Clearly no one-size-fits-all advice will be practicable for every family, but if you're someone who would rather avoid the strum und drung of maximalist political warfare among "loved ones" assembled for a mere few hours, Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic offers a tongue-in-cheek 13-step guide to handling every political issue likely to cause resentment among any faction of the family. Point six is the one I'm most inclined to abide by this Thanksgiving:"Every family has a patriotic duty to debate the most important unsettled political question of our era: Is President Donald Trump a sexually predatory Nazi who praises murderous tyrants while normalizing a Margaret Atwood dystopia? Or is he a latter-day Midas who beds porn stars only with their consent … with the same manly hands he used to romance North Korea's leader out of his nukes? At my house, each faction will nominate a champion to argue its position, those of us who remembered to bring IDs will vote on who won, and absent unanimity, we'll settle the matter by combat."