Over the Thanksgiving holiday, you’re likely to encounter a broad spectrum of the American populace better known as your extended family. Some of them will have traveled from other parts of the country, and most will be of varying ages and ideological persuasions, but they all have one thing in common: they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.
That’s particularly true when it comes to such hot button, complex issues as the situation in Ferguson or Obama’s new immigration plan, or the Bill Cosby accusations. From top to bottom, grandad to niece, not one of these people, whom you presumably love, has the slightest clue. You may have highly educated or politically involved members of the family, and under normal circumstances, they might be capable of making a few salient points, but this is not a normal circumstance. This is Thanksgiving.
More likely, your family is populated by average morons. Morons like you and me who think we know what’s what.
We do not.
How then to talk about politics at the family gathering?
Just don’t do it.
You might think you’re doing a good deed by patiently explaining to Nana why her views are outdated, or to your father about how Fox News has been slowly and steadily poisoning him like a sadistic nurse with an IV of political potassium chloride, but no one in the history of political arguments has ever, once, even come close to having their eyes opened by some hasty talking points farted out from across the gravy bowl.
How’s that, cousin Jeff? You think that blacks are arrested more because they commit more crimes? Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way until now. Anyway, let’s all sit here now and try to enjoy each other’s company while that idea turd curdles.
If, for some reason, you insist upon engaging in political debate with a member of your family, there is really only one effective and responsible rhetorical tactic: When someone says something gross about Ferguson, for example, you should promptly tell them to go fuck themselves, then peace out and never talk to them again. While that’s certainly a satisfying outcome, it’s not going to make you happy in the long run. Anything less than that is a cop-out.
I know from experience. My mother is a beautiful, loving woman who does many kind things and would never harm a soul, but, as she’s gotten older, certain Bill O’Reilly-style talking points have wormed their way into her ideology. Last year at Christmas, we engaged in a stupid, pointless debate, in which me, the arrogant, brash Knowledge Man, attempted to instruct her of the failings in her logic. Cut to ten minutes later and everyone had gone home and Christmas was ruined. Haha, I sure showed her though, didn’t I. Big win, all things considered.
I asked diplomat George Mitchell about how to properly handle political discussion over Thanksgiving last year, and his advice was predictably measured. “Nobody likes to be embarrassed in front of a crowd,” he said of the best way to point out an error in someone’s argument. “If I thought it was really egregiously wrong I would probably wait till later and privately, say ‘I just want to let you know I don’t think what you said is correct.’ There’s no need to upset a whole family dinner by pointing out errors publicly.”
An alternative to that is to just shut the hell up and let it slide. Treat any political utterance like a fart from a grandpa napping on the couch. Pretend it didn’t happen and stare straight ahead at the football game without making eye contact with anyone else. Potential political disagreements are like coming across a bear in the woods. If you play dead (inside) and back away quietly, hopefully the damn thing won’t tear you apart.
Try to think of a time when someone confronted you on something that you said that was wrong and stupid. Did their response show you the error of your ways? It did not. Instead, what calling someone out does is convince them to further double down on their righteousness. When one is confronted, and feels cornered, they become even more convinced of their aggrieved status. This is particularly true of cry-baby conservative white dudes who are watching their world crumble around them and feel confused and frightened.
Instead of politics then, here are some other topics of discussion you might broach:
1 This food. How about this food. Is it good? I bet it’s good. You can get away with saying this over and over all day and no one will think twice about it. People, by and large, are dumb.
2 The big game. Who’s gonna win? I bet someone knows. Ask them who they think it will be. Feel free to disagree in a playful manner.
3 Karen, vis a vis her whole deal over there. What is Karen’s deal? Have you talked to her? What is she wearing? Is it weird? Probably, knowing Karen. One of these days we’re going to have to deal with this Karen situation.
4 TV shows. There are many popular ones airing now. Which ones were good and/or bad, in your estimation? Did your aunt know that there are many shows streaming over the internet on Netflix now? Probably not. Convince her that’s a worthwhile way to spend her time.
5 The damn dog. Haha, up to his old tricks, no doubt. Where is that damn dog anyway? The goddamned dog. The goddamned, piece of shit dog. I hate that dog with my life.
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