Each year as the end of December approaches, I can expect a few things–decadent Christmas lights displays from neighbors, the inevitable social media debates about the acceptability of saying “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays,” and the most irritating recent holiday trend–articles from well-meaning journalists about how to speak to family members who don’t share our political leanings. Published by several online outlets, the pieces are less about how to have political dialogue with your family members, and more about how to ignore them. Even political parties promote them. On Monday, the DNC launched yourrepublicanuncle.com.
Don’t get me wrong, ascribing evil motives to the authors of these tedious articles would be a mistake. But ultimately, they don’t serve much of a purpose beyond highlighting just how polarizing and unhealthy our current political discourse is.
I have to ask, why is anyone even talking about politics at family holiday gatherings in the first place? It’s as if we’ve entered this alternate reality in which diagnosing the pathology of Trump or Hillary voters is more appealing than scarfing down unhealthy amounts of Christmas ham and pie. Yes, questions about school, boyfriends, and future plans eventually get tiring and repetitive, but they’re always preferable over bringing up politics at the dinner table.
For one thing, political arguments during what should be pleasant family time ignores basic decorum. Political banter over a meal is every bit as appealing as sharing endless political memes on Facebook — which is to say, not at all. It’s made worse by the fact that there is no option to “hide” political conversations in such a situation. In all seriousness, if this applies to to you, do yourself and your family a favor and enjoy your holiday. The politics can wait until your family members are at a safe distance from you and your need to psychoanalyze your political opposition.
Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic, but the need to inject politics into family time also seems like an indirect attack on the family itself. Certain ideas about family are pretty universal. Foremost among them is the idea that familial relationships are unlike the others in our lives. They’re more important, sacred even. Because of this, we tend to be more sensitive to things that threaten these relationships.
Along with religious differences, politics have become another major source of division. Aside from being smug, self-satisfying manuals for political point-scoring, guides for talking to your political-opposition-that-also-happens-to-be-related-to-you exploit those divisions. The subtle, (and not so subtle) implication of these pieces is to suggest loyalty to one’s political party is more important than basic manners and civility towards family for a few hours during the holidays. They’re written from a place of absolute moral superiority that can only be reached with complete confidence in one’s views as the “Only Correct Way to Think.”
These “how to” guides are often aimed unsurprisingly, at young people, who are more easily attracted to appeals to dismiss family members’ views. There’s a reason articles about “How To Talk To Your Silly Uncle” are a dime a dozen, while how-tos for talking to the hopelessly idealistic niece in your life are mostly nonexistent, or satirical. Consider this, hopelessly idealistic niece or nephew– your uncle has your best interests at heart, no matter whose campaign bumper he has on his car.
Understandably, most people who can still be bothered with politics are very passionate about theirs. This isn’t a bad thing, but maybe the time to discuss the ridiculousness of the political outgroup isn’t over Christmas dinner. At least for the holidays, remember the political doesn’t always have to be personal.
Tamara Winter is a college junior studying Accounting and Economics. When not in class or working, she can be found tweeting @BookOfTamara, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thx for the call to humanize each other, peace starts at home. Nice piece.