Certain conversations are off-limits during the holidays, and politics has become one of them. Given our current political climate, it’s not hard to see why.
Politics can be divisive. People are dismissive. Disagreement is uncomfortable, especially when emotions run high in the heat of moment. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, one in six Americans stopped talking to a friend or family member over the results of the 2016 election.
Every year there are countless headlines offering advice on how to approach the topic or to avoid it altogether, giving anxious individuals a how-to guide on steering away from discussing the serious problems of the day.
“How to avoid all-out political war at your Thanksgiving table,” reads an NBC News headline. “Have different politics from your family? Here’s how to survive Thanksgiving,” wrote the Washington Post. “How to navigate awkward political conversations at the Thanksgiving table,” offered USA Today.
“Saturday Night Live” even did a comical skit that went viral mocking a hypothetical Thanksgiving dinner where politics-talk erupted what started off as a happy holiday feast into a tempestuous dispute with the family only to be united by the consoling voice of Adele.
The scene at the dinner table, however, is all too true for too many people, prompting many to pledge a politics-free Thanksgiving.
A 2017 Huffington Post/YouGov survey showed that just 29 percent of Americans said it was only somewhat likely they would discuss politics during their November holiday that year. A study from the Pew Research Center showed that in 2018, more than half of Americans said talking politics with family was stressful and frustrating.
So stressful in the modern age that 12 percent of Americans went as far as to change their holiday plans to avoid talking politics at Thanksgiving in 2017, according to a Takeaway/Harris poll, and 17 percent reported being anxious about the holiday.
A September survey conducted by YouGov shows that the American appetite to discuss political topics at the Thanksgiving dinner table has fared no better in 2019. Among those surveyed who claimed their family was likely to have an argument this season, “general politics” and the “2020 presidential race” were cited as the second and third most likely culprits to trigger a dispute after “long-standing family tensions.”
But talking politics doesn’t have to be stressful, and nor should it be, especially among loved ones. Sadly, our toxic political climate has led to the rapid deterioration of civil discourse, where polarization has reached historic heights not seen since the Civil War.
The country is seeing something far worse than the simple breakdown in political civility. Our modern political climate has become saturated with contempt, where American politics has become so divisive that individuals on opposing sides of an issue begin see their friends and neighbors as something less than human.
In September, San Francisco leaders declared the nearly five million members of the National Rifle Association a terrorist group. In June, conservative journalist Andy Ngo suffered a brain injury after Antifa protesters attacked him in Portland, Oregon. In October, violence erupted once again outside of a President Trump rally in Minnesota, in a scene becoming far too common and familiar.
A man in a blue jacket seemed to be leaving the Trump rally by himself when he was spotted by a protester who yelled: “There’s a Nazi over here!” A group of protesters then attacked the man, slapping and pushing him. He finally ran away. pic.twitter.com/jzYaWgca9g
— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) October 11, 2019
Trump hasn’t helped. The president has even offered to cover the legal fees for rally attendees who assault the protestors who interrupt his events.
The only way to reverse the sinking tide of American civility destroying political discourse in a country that desperately needs it is to engage in hard conversations around the dinner table, which used to be the norm in American society. If we can’t even discuss the critical issues affecting our everyday lives with the very people we love and cherish the most, then who can we talk to? How can we ever expect to revive the spirit of civility in our increasingly toxic political culture?
The nation also needs something more than the simple return to civility. One can be civil and tolerant of one’s next-door neighbor without ever speaking to him.
The country, as self-help author Marianne Williamson and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker have exclaimed again and again on the presidential campaign trail, needs love, where citizens freely engage in the marketplace of ideas and practice empathy to push society forward. What better time with what better people to practice such warm-heartedness with than the holiday season?
The nation would be far better off if Americans were able to come together to address the issues tearing the very fabric of society apart. So please, talk politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table this year. Even if it’s just for a little bit.