This Thanksgiving, enjoy the turkey.
Have extra helpings of stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Indulge in a piece of pumpkin pie.
But save room for what — this year — may be the most important course.
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The political discourse.
Typically, talking politics during family holidays like Thanksgiving is to be avoided like green bean casserole. And understandably so. There’s nothing that mars what should be an enjoyable day like getting into a shouting match over tax policy or government spending with your uncle from Enumclaw.
Usually, it’s not worth the risk, or the effort. These are the holidays, after all.
But we find ourselves in unusual times.
As has recently become painfully clear, we live in a nation divided — fractured, perhaps, like no time in recent memory. The election of Donald Trump has exposed this fissure, and what can now be seen isn’t pretty.
We don’t just have disagreements. We have gaping, festering wounds. Urban versus rural. Educated versus working class. Elite versus, well, whatever the opposite of elite is.
It’s not that many of us don’t see eye to eye, it’s that we’re not on the same plane. Perhaps most alarming of all, we can’t even agree what we’re looking at.
That’s why, on Thanksgiving, when families and friends of differing political leanings gather around tables, removed from the bubbles we’ve created for ourselves — and momentarily disconnected from the online echo-chambers — we must skew holiday norms.
We must talk about politics with the ones we love.
And we must listen.
On Thanksgiving, when families and friends of differing political leanings gather around tables, removed from the bubbles we’ve created for ourselves — and momentarily disconnected from the online echo-chambers — we must askew holiday norms. We must talk about politics with the ones we love. And we must listen.
In understanding the dire situation we find ourselves in, a look at the electoral map is telling. It’s covered in red – because Trump carried more than 2,500 small counties across the country. If the election were judged in geography, it wouldn’t have been close.
Then again, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote — by a comfortable margin — because she carried 88 of the nation’s 100 largest counties.
“Not since (1920) has the cultural chasm between urban and non-urban America shaped the struggle over the country’s direction as much as today,” Ronald Brownstein wrote recently for The Atlantic. “Of all the overlapping generational, racial, and educational divides that explained Trump’s stunning upset over Hillary Clinton … none proved more powerful than the distance between the Democrats’ continued dominance of the largest metropolitan areas, and the stampede toward the GOP almost everywhere else.”
If your family is anything like mine, this divide will be represented around the dinner table Thursday.
Take advantage of it.
If you’re scared to death about what Trump’s election means for our country and our future, like I am, speak to these fears, as calmly as possible. Talk about the terrifying implications of a Muslim registry. Talk about the specter of mass deportations. Talk about climate change. Talk about the racially divisive underpinnings of Trump’s candidacy, his allegiance to figures like Steven Bannon and Jeff Sessions, and how the Ku Klux Klan greeted news of Trump’s victory by planning a parade.
Explain why these things aren’t partisan issues — they’re core tenets of the promise of this country, and everything that promise is built on. Whenever possible, use personal anecdotes. Talk about how the policies Trump has proposed would personally affect you, or people you care about.
For Trump supporters, take Thanksgiving as an opportunity to put into words why you supported this candidate. In the days since Trump’s election, I’ve routinely heard supporters express a belief that the caricature gets them all wrong. They’re not racists, or bigots, or xenophobes; they’re citizens gravely concerned about the direction of this country.
Talk about the fears and the key issues that led you to support Donald Trump. If you are uncomfortable with the dangerous and divisive rhetoric Trump has relied on, but still felt like he was the best candidate, explain yourself. Take the opportunity to disavow the ugliness, and the opportunity to express where it is you’re truly coming from.
Or, if matters of race, religion, and immigration are precisely what led you to support Trump, express that, too. At least there will be no room left for misunderstanding.
And, for everyone involved, spend as much time listening as you do talking — if not more.
Political disagreement in our country is nothing new, and I’m not so naive as to believe we’ll be able to fix what ails us in one dinner conversation. But the truth is, what we confront now goes beyond right and left, liberal and conservative. Any illusion of unity has been shown for what it is: a fallacy that perhaps provided reassurance in the past that the humanity we share would be enough to guide us through.
There’s work to be done, and it starts by getting in the same room as people we disagree with and reclaiming this humanity, one conversation at a time.
What lies ahead is a Herculean task. In reality, I’d be lying if I said I was sure we’ll succeed. I’m not hoping for political unanimity, but — like many — I have spent considerable time, some of it sleepless, tossing and turning in bed at night, wondering how on earth we’re going to move forward.
How do we fix this mess?
Before writing this column, I bounced the idea of recommending Thanksgiving political talk off an editor.
She responded succinctly: “You’re crazy.”
Perhaps. Maybe a good meal will be ruined.
But, by not talking, we risk ruining something far greater.