Why you should talk politics on Thanksgiving

By William Keve

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(Collegian File Photo)

Thanksgiving has been my favorite day of the year for as long as I can remember. It’s one of very few opportunities for me to see most of my family, given our busy lives across different states and countries. But when I traveled home to Vermont last week for a family get-together (and a feast), political arguments of all kinds flew back and forth. The allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and the larger topic of sexual assault dominated the discussion, along with President Trump’s tax reform bill. These stories were like juicy dark meat, and everyone had to make themselves and their opinions heard. Then there was Meek Mill’s parole violation; this news was like the stuffing—most people had something to say, but some people think of celebrity news as pointless filler and avoided discussing it. For dessert, we argued about Colin Kaepernick winning GQ Magazine’s Citizen of the Year cover award and the implications behind the choice. Like eating a slice of pecan pie, it was irresistible to discuss, but we all immediately regretted it afterward.

These discussions didn’t start or end on Thanksgiving. Politics, race, religion, news, entertainment and sports have never been taboo in my house. Because of this, my parents and siblings rarely get personal when discussing politics. But when a liberal member of the family defended Minnesota Senator Al Franken—who is accused of groping a woman in a staged photo, among other things—while condemning Moore’s alleged actions, things did finally get personal. Insults of sexism and tribalism flew across the room like unwanted leftovers in a food fight.

It left me with the realization that it isn’t politics that we hate to talk about, we just hate fighting, especially among family during the precious few holidays when we can all come together. But banning politics from family gatherings doesn’t prevent fighting; it just causes tensions to build slowly until they explode into an outburst. Civil political discussion about issues where common ground exists is healthy and natural. I know this because my family and I talk politics on the other 363 days of the year. Our personalities and identities are partially defined by our politics, so covering them up with a non-partisan mask for a few hours while we dine with our relatives is essentially like wearing a Halloween costume to dinner. We’re being asked to dress up as someone else entirely—someone who doesn’t care one way or the other about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Instead, try listening to your uncle’s rant about immigration and offer your opinion in a way that doesn’t insult him or water down how you really feel. Honesty and good listening can transform an egotistic barrage of talking points into an enlightening discussion, and the food on the table or the date on the calendar doesn’t change that. If you’re really at odds with your family over politics in a way that can’t be overcome, it’s going to have an adverse effect on your entire relationship with them, not just the one night of the year when you eat together. Why not use your time together to try and get closure from these problems?

I will concede that some topics of conversation are probably hushed for good reason. If you share no mutual ground with a family member or can’t even agree on basic facts, then arguing will get you nowhere with them. But if this really is the case, it’s easy to disengage. Listen for signals that your grandmother thinks the moon landing was fake, and when she mentions it, safely back off from the topic. That might feel like walking through a minefield for some, but for me, trying to have a conversation that can never lead to any controversial subject is even more awkward.

William Keve is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]