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Weekly Editorial Roundtable: How To Talk About Politics At Thanksgiving

Or, should socialists feel obligated to proselytize to their families?

It’s the question everyone wants answers to today: should politics arise at the Thanksgiving dinner table? And if they do, what then? Today, the Current Affairs staff tackles this thorniest of dilemmas.

CATE ROOT (ADMINISTRATIVE MAVEN):

I’ve been practicing how to talk to people. I spent a few minutes recently with a comrade running through how to talk about “electability.” Or how to get people to talk about theories of power instead of just identities; using questions to deepen the conversation, and empathizing.

I’m nervous about going home. The last time I talked to my parents about Bernie, my dad got so upset he left the room. Once when I brought up single payer at a family party, he yelled at me in front of everyone, and I ended up going home. I have a cousin who is a Trump supporter with a MAGA hat. It’s a large Irish Catholic family with a lot of heavy drinking. My grandma loved Hillary. You can imagine how well this could go.

I’m giving myself permission to not bring up politics at the dinner table, where my chances of success are practically nil. The only option is small groups or one-on-ones. Is it crass to want commitments from my brother and sisters by the time 2020 starts? We have work to do.

LYTA GOLD (AMUSEMENTS AND MANAGING EDITOR):

My feeling is that contrary to popular opinion it’s not the job of leftist women to fix their family. In fact, I think it’s very interesting that we are kind of expected to do it! Because this, folks, is EMOTIONAL LABOR. (It also descends from Victorian expectations: the “angel in the house”, where women are held responsible for the morality of their family.)

Of course it’s not just women. Leftist men may also feel obligated to try to persuade their recalcitrant family members (though there’s less moral pressure on them to do so). In general, my feeling is you should try your best with your family but it’s never your job to fix them in any respect. And also family dynamics are super complex and if you’re going into a political discussion as a young person–especially a young woman–the odds are decent that your older conservative/lib family members will simply not respect what you have to say simply because you’re the one saying it.

ROOT:

Yeah, my first goal is my siblings.

GOLD:

Definitely an easier sell.

ROOT:

Missouri [where they live] is an open primary state.

SPARKY ABRAHAM (FINANCE EDITOR):

Does it matter that it might not be time- and energy-efficient to focus on your family? I feel like often you can be way more effective with strangers.

ROOT:

I mean, I’m also working on my lib friends. My thing is, like, I’m alive, and if I’m expected to be making conversation anyway, might as well talk about Bernie.

GOLD:

Maybe it’s easier with strangers, or friends, but if you’re stuck at a holiday dinner anyway, I don’t think it hurts to try and figure out which family members might be persuadable and see if they’re open to a friendly discussion. I think people like to fantasize about yelling at their family or getting in some sweet owns, but let’s be real: you’re not going to do that, and even if you did it wouldn’t work. What you can do is try to figure out common ground and see if you can locate legitimate concerns. (I think people usually have SOME legitimate concerns at the bottom of their politics, like “this economic system is really unstable and people can lose everything in a moment, especially if they have a health crisis” or “the Democrats sure have a history of being hypocritical and untrustworthy”). It’s really tough if your family is bigoted and they often are, but sometimes that bigotry is rooted in a total misunderstanding of how the world actually works, and if you can offer a compelling competing narrative they might listen.

Emphasis on MIGHT. Sometimes it’s best to just get drunk and enjoy the pumpkin pie! Also families should probably be banned, but that’s another discussion.

NATHAN J. ROBINSON (EDITOR-IN-CHIEF):

My grandmother keeps trying to goad me into talking about Jeremy Corbyn with her and I don’t want to.

GOLD:

Does she want to say he’s an anti-Semite

ROBINSON:

No, her problem isn’t that he’s an anti-Semite, her problem is his beard.

GOLD:

I think it’s cute that Britain is pretending to care about anti-Semitism now. Like wow, where was this energy in 1290.

ROBINSON:

Well that’s why I think anti-Semitism is actually a very unwise line of attack. British people have never cared about anti-Semitism. It’s like saying Jeremy Corbyn hates the French. People will nod and agree.

GOLD:

How To Talk About Anti-Semitism With Your British Family Who Have Unilaterally Decided It’s Just A Labour Party Problem.

BRIANNA RENNIX (SENIOR EDITOR):

Although my wider extended family is all over the political spectrum (from apolitical to very conservative to pretty left) I usually only spend Thanksgiving with my immediate family, who are mostly liberals. Right now I’m mostly just realizing that I have no idea what issues people are following. My parents are pretty into the Ukraine/impeachment stuff?? which I honestly know nothing about at this point.

ROBINSON:

It’s very funny when I talk to a normal person and they find out I run a political magazine and they’re like: “So what did you think of Fiona Hill’s testimony?”

RENNIX:

THE FIRST THING MY MOM SAID TO ME WHEN I ARRIVED WAS ABOUT FIONA HILL AND I HAD NO IDEA WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT. Then she showed me a video clip, and I still had no idea.

ELI MASSEY (CONTRIBUTING EDITOR):

I like that we are all aggressively ignorant about this nitty-gritty impeachment stuff. Who is Fiona Hill??? (I don’t actually want to know.)

RENNIX:

I still don’t really know who she is!! Something something national security? 

Also someone in my family said that they thought Bloomberg had entered the race because the establishment was anxious about Pete Buttigieg winning, and I laughed, and then realized it wasn’t a joke, and then sort of couldn’t find the energy to dissect that chain of reasoning. So I guess I am not good at the whole persuade-your-relatives thing.

GOLD:

People operate from very different premises and knowledge-bases! It’s wild. I have no idea who Fiona Hill is either, is she the princess from Shrek?

ABRAHAM:

A singer, I thought. Anyway, I am bad at persuading people too. I don’t tell people my opinion about things unless they ask. Work, hobbies, with family, wherever: I don’t bring up politics unprompted. It seems a lot easier to convince people of things if they think you’re thoughtful and nice and quietly believe a thing than if they think you’re out to convince them. So I just ask very open questions and even if they ask, I only answer earnestly if it’s clear they’re not trying to start some shit. Except sometimes when getting in a fight about politics feels like it will be fun. But it’s basically never productive.

ROBINSON:

In conclusion, read Jane McAlevey’s excellent piece in Jacobin today about smart ways to organize your family and friends. Failing that, try the second best approach: just talk about Epstein.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

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