How to Argue About Politics With Your Family This Thanksgiving
Ah, Thanksgiving — a time of happiness and warmth, when families come together to put aside their differences and celebrate the love that binds them with delicious food and thoughtful conversation.
Kidding! The hallmark of a successful Thanksgiving for most people has traditionally been ignoring Aunt Martha's obvious drinking problem and falling asleep in front of a college football game you don't care about before anybody can ask why you're still single.
If you thought that was stressful, get ready for Thanksgiving 2016: Thunderdome Edition. All across the country, family members who've been bickering about politics on Facebook for the past year will see one another face to face, often for the first time since the election. Bernie bros, Deplorables, third-party spoilers, and Pantsuit nationals, all gathered around the same dinner table? The best possible scenario is a tense but civil meal, briefly enjoyed before one group attempts to eliminate all the others from America. You know, just like the original Thanksgiving.
But let's be honest: Unless you're spending the holiday with your cat, you're not getting through Thursday without talking politics in some capacity. Maybe you think you can reach your relatives' hearts and minds with your impassioned views on immigration. Maybe you're just trying to make it through dinner without anybody telling you you're going to Hell. Either way, here are a few rules to follow to mitigate the damage.
1. Use your emotions.
Conventional wisdom instructs debaters to stay calm at all times in order to sound more reasonable. That's mostly true, and if you can pull it off this Thanksgiving, congratulations to both you and your talented therapist. If not, remember this: In dealing with loved ones — even loved ones you don't like very much — your emotions can be a valuable tool. You know these people, and they know you, so if you get all formal and detached when you talk about Steve Bannon, they'll likely spend more time feeling confused or condescended to than they will listening to what you have to say. Few minds have been changed by sobbing and shouting, but just as few have been changed by arguments delivered with all the energy of Ben Stein. Besides, if you have to completely suppress your personality just to get your uncle to pay attention, you probably won't change his mind anyway. It's OK to let your family know how much this means to you.
2. Don't place blame.
We're all special snowflakes this holiday season. Trump supporters can't handle being called racist; liberals can't tolerate being called crybabies. So remember your goal: a discussion, not a blowout. Don't point fingers or call names. It is possible to point out your sister's racist attitude without calling her a dumb slut who hates black people, despite what you have read on Facebook.
3. Consider your audience.
This one goes out to all the liberals: In educated, left-leaning circles, certain words and phrases have become convenient shorthand for broad concepts: privilege, trigger, safe space. To your grandpa, that's just a bunch of garbage lingo he doesn't understand. And that's the best-case scenario; plenty of conservatives derive as much joy at mocking these terms as you did every time Trump said "bigly." Or was it "big league"? Anyway, preaching like a women's studies professor won't win you any points at the dinner table.
4. Get creative.
Not everyone at your family gathering will play by the rules mentioned above. If, say, your cousin Blaine (whose girlfriend you stole in eighth grade, btw) starts mocking you or calling you names, you have two choices: You can tell him in a serious tone that his immature antics are not contributing to our nation's progress toward unity, or you can pledge to donate $10 in his name to the Trevor Project for each time he calls you a fag. Your call.
5. Don't drink.
Sorry, folks, but do you really think you'll have the wit and wherewithal to carry out Steps 1 through 4 when you're four spiced ciders deep?
6. Take care of yourself.
For some people, Thanksgiving is just a moderately stressful meal. For others, returning to unwelcoming family members and communities can be emotionally and even physically dangerous. If you're in the latter group, skip the steps above (except maybe 5) and prepare for your own worst-case scenario. Connect with an ally who'll be nearby. Look up local AA or NA meetings even if you haven't been in a while. Research groups in your community offering support for LGBTQ people or Muslims or women or whomever you happen to be. Devise an escape strategy if the place you plan to stay could become unsafe. If all else fails, save the number for RAINN, the Trevor Project, or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in your phone. Your survival matters more than anything else.
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