Written by Kristina Markulin // Illustrated by Asha McClendon
Thanksgiving is famous for political discussions, but we have to remember to be mindful of ourselves and others this year.
Thanksgiving dinner has always been a hotbed for political debate. Its proximity to elections means the government is on everyone’s mind. Worsening the matter is that Thanksgiving is a holiday centered around the settlement of our country and involves sitting at a table for long periods of time. Conversations are inevitable, and the chance of them turning political is high. This fact is so well known that it’s been parodied many times on TV shows like “Saturday Night Live.” Every year, the stress of politics and the stress of family can collide in ugly ways.
These past four years have been some of the most politically polarizing in recent history — Republicans moving further right, with President Trump displaying and endorsing white supremacy and alt-right hate groups, leftists becoming disenchanted with the current state of the Democratic party, and liberal Democrats trying to balance their own interests with the more moderate members of their party. The events of the past four years have been wild, and this year alone has bred some of the most intense political turmoil this country has seen in generations. The political stakes have never been higher.
This all comes to a climax in November. At the time of writing, the results of the election are unknown. If 2016 has taught us anything, polls are not enough to go by. Depending on how states collect and count votes, we might not even have a definite winner by Thanksgiving. We also don’t know how the government (or the American people) will react to the results, whatever they may be. With all of this, we must employ a level of tact when dealing with those who hold differing political views.
"-this year alone has bred some of the most intense political turmoil this country has seen in generations."
Even if we know the winner by Thanksgiving, the very nature of this election is so dire that unrest is likely. Debate amongst the American people will ensue at the very least, and it might not necessarily be constructive. If your family cannot engage in a healthy discussion of these circumstances, then these discussions are not worth having.
I’m not saying to refrain from educating your family. We as political citizens have a duty to educate those around us about the problems that we face both in the country and abroad. If your family is receptive to these lessons, then I encourage you to teach them. The more informed the public is, the more likely meaningful change will occur. However, do not expect everyone in your family to be receptive.
I know what it is like to have family members who believe in harmful ideas and ideologies, some that directly harm my friends and me. Becoming confrontational and starting fights over rights is tempting but will only deter those you argue with from ever having an eureka moment. People tend to get defensive when you directly challenge their beliefs. I’m not saying to laugh along or agree without critical thought, but to instead avoid massive arguments for the sake of changing their minds and thus maintaining your mental health.
Keep in mind, Thanksgiving is one day out of the year. It’s unlikely you will change anyone’s political party over turkey and stuffing. People with differing political views need more than heartfelt appeals and one-day lectures to change their entire worldview. It’s continued education, meaningful self-reflection and, most importantly, the want to be better that makes real change.
However, prepare yourself for the possibility that these discussions may arise. If you have a highly politically vocal family (or someone who likes to argue a lot in your midst), these topics are sure to arise. Unless you are a master debater and can shut down any bad-faith arguments quickly and efficiently, steel yourself for that moment.
Often when dealing with these types of people, they want to see you angry. They want you to get upset. Bad-faith debaters with no intent of academic integrity or sportsmanship purposely bring up these topics to start conflict. The best defense is to try to keep your cool as best as you can while standing firm. However, for a lot of these instigators, having an angry opponent is validation of their beliefs.
Do not succumb to passivity, let hate speech fester or be normalized, or allow harmful ideologies to become the norm. Assert your stance and beliefs and shut down harmful language. If you cannot overpower the instigator without losing composure, change the subject and keep changing until something sticks. It’s not ideal, but if you’re not a skilled debater with experience in how to cut through the noise, it’s the best you can do.
Remember, at the end of the day, people who do not want to change will not change; and sometimes that hurts, especially if those people are family members. Families are supposed to understand and support each other, and when that doesn’t happen, it can cut like a knife. But people who don’t want to listen will not listen. Someone might make them listen, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s not you. At the end of the day, you can’t control what the people around you do.
And remember, Zoom has a mute button.