It’s Thanksgiving week, which means we are once again being bombarded with pieces on “how to talk to your relatives about politics over turkey,” in a thoroughly depressing and bewildering tradition the country can do without.
It may shock many of our youngest activists, but familial political divisions were not invented at the dawn of the Obama administration. Ask your parents and older siblings about those even-keeled, calm, easygoing dinner-table discussions of the 2000 recount, or of whether Reagan’s election meant nuclear Armageddon was imminent, or of whether Nixon should be impeached. If you crack a book every now and then, you might even recall that brothers actually shot at each other in a Civil War back in the 1860s.
In other words, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, crazy uncles, batty aunts, half-senile grandparents, and insufferable cousins have been getting together and arguing about politics and a whole lot more for as long as there have been Thanksgivings. Somehow, for generations, the whole country managed to survive just fine without any handy tips, checklists, or pep talks from the New York Times, Vox, and Psychology Today.
The idea that Thanksgiving is now a massive, stressful, unavoidable occasion to litigate our national debate about party and philosophy over family dinner represents the insufferable hyper-politicization of American life. Some of this may reflect growing cultural differences, partisanship, communities segregating themselves along ideological lines, and so on. But there’s an unavoidable fact that only recently have we been subjected to political leaders explicitly calling for these holiday arguments.
Back in 2013, Michelle Obama wrote on the site of the White House’s political arm, Organizing for Action, that, “as you spend time with loved ones this holiday season, be sure to talk with them about what health-care reform can mean to them.”
Then in 2014, Mike Bloomberg’s anti-gun group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, offered a placemat entitled “Talking Turkey About Guns.”
In 2015, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest concurred, suggesting that families should discuss why members of Congress are too afraid of the NRA to pass a gun-control bill: “As people are sitting around the Thanksgiving table talking about these issues – as they should and I’m sure they all will across the country – I hope that is a question that will be raised and asked by members around the table.”
This year we get “How to Talk to Your Family About Planned Parenthood This Thanksgiving.” Pass the gravy, and let me tell you more about the organization’s commitment to STD testing.
What is wrong with these people? Since when is it a national obligation to subject your relatives to the conversational equivalent of push-polling? Everybody’s gotten together to express thanks, say a little prayer, maybe drop off some canned goods at the soup kitchen, watch a parade and some football, eat way too much, and scoff at the lunatics camped out on shopping-center sidewalks in anticipation of Black Friday. If a family wants the main course to turn into The McLaughlin Group, it will happen naturally. We don’t need government officials and interest groups to coach us on our dinner conversations.
More importantly, there’s a lot more to our relatives than their voting histories and political perspectives.
#related#Take a good look around the table this Thanksgiving. Even when your family members drive you crazy, you’re lucky to have them. You’ll miss them when they’re gone, and they’ll miss you when you’re gone. Do you really want to spend Thanksgiving arguing with them about their vote, or the fairness of the electoral college, or Trump’s latest Tweet, or what the cast of Hamilton did? Must we say every thought that pops into our heads? Is it really so impossibly hard to find things to admire in our relatives beyond their political beliefs?
If your relatives answer those questions affirmatively and you just don’t want to deal with them, I sympathize. My only advice is to retreat to the den and check out the game. It should be safe; Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers don’t play until Sunday.