I have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Thanks to the fine folks at Pfizer and Moderna (and, to a lesser extent, the sporadic availability of at-home COVID antigen tests at my local Walmart), I will be able to enjoy a non-virtual holiday with my entire family. And for the first time since 2016, when we sit down to dinner, there won’t be a voice in the back of my head urging me to pick out the likely Donald Trump voters and unleash holy hell on them.
I never seriously considered doing this because (a) there are few Trump supporters in my family and (b) for a person who works in political journalism, I’m surprisingly averse to arguing about the news in real life. But in the lead-up to every Thanksgiving of the Trump era, I was subjected to a barrage of guides to arguing about the president with my relatives. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to show up to Turkey Day with a sloppily constructed Libby’s “famous” pumpkin pie and an ability to explain all the musical acts in the Macy’s parade to the assembled boomers: I was supposed to have a strategy for discussing authoritarianism with my mom.
The most innocuous version of this Thanksgiving staple assured readers that nearly half of all Americans try to avoid talking politics during the holidays and offered tips to prevent a family feud. For instance, last year USA Today advised that “it’s okay to set ground rules” for conversation topics, but if someone brings up something controversial anyway, “don’t approach the conversation by trying to change a family member’s mind.”
But many of these pieces told me the exact opposite: The battle for the soul of America would be waged at my Thanksgiving table.
And what if I refused the call to educate my (mythical) Hannity-loving uncle? Well, then I should consider myself a bad American and an enemy to the #resistance.
Many of these pieces severely overestimated my particular set of skills. I did not get into writing because I’m good at forming verbal arguments; you don’t want me trying to moderate your live political debate, even if I’ve taken PolitiFact’s advice to “practice fact-checking someone in a mirror” before sitting down to dinner with loved ones.
And I am going to be outside crying in my car well before a fight escalates to the point that my hostage-negotiation training kicks in.
I appreciate the argument made in many of these pieces that our close relations have a huge influence over our political beliefs, and remaining silent as loved ones spew ignorant or hateful opinions is generally cowardly and bad for society. I actually performed my “civic duty” well before it was a dubious trend, converting several family members from Nixon-defending lifelong Republicans to reliable Democratic voters who watch a truly troubling amount of MSNBC (but I’ll take it). This was not accomplished by shouting, “Actually, Bush belongs in The Hague!” at Thanksgiving after I stumbled on some pithy guide while scouring the web for Black Friday deals. I changed my relatives’ politics by having many conversations with them over a period of years and exposing them to a broader range of people, ideas, and perspectives — which is exactly how my own political thinking evolved after some youthful experimentation with conservatism.
If you really want to yell at some MAGA-y aunt you only see once a year, my unsolicited advice is: Go for it, if it makes you happy. But is the path to progress really paved by righteously indignant young people being rude to their “unenlightened” elders over turkey? I doubt it.
Happily, this journalism trope seems to have all but disappeared this year. Sadly, this isn’t because news outlets suddenly came to their senses; it’s just because Trump isn’t president anymore. But publications still need fresh holiday-weekend content, and there’s only so much you can say about the White House turkey pardon. So don’t be surprised to see leftover tips for confronting Trump supporters reheated and served up as a guide to talking to your unvaccinated relatives at Thanksgiving.