Navigating politics at the Thanksgiving table

“It is a holiday dinner and all hell is about to break out in the dining room,” writes Brookings Vice President Darrell West. “One of your relatives asks what you think about the President Donald Trump impeachment proceedings. There is silence around the table because your family is dreading what is about to happen. Everyone knows Uncle Charley loves Trump while cousin Betsy detests him.”

Sound like your family? Certainly, like many families. As West writes, divided families are common in America.

So here you are at Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year dinners and celebrations. Political conversations are likely to come up. How do you handle it without all hell breaking out?

West and Politifact have some advice.

  • “Avoidance,” West says. “This is the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ strategy. Little Good comes out of political conversations because people feel intensely about those subjects and are not very tolerant of individuals who have views at odds with their own perspectives.”
  • “Pick your battles,” says Politifact, the Pulitzer winning fact checking organization. “You’re not obligated to correct misstatements on Thanksgiving,” Politifact quotes Ethan Potter, an assistant professor at George Washington University. “There’s nothing wrong with staying away from politics and setting aside the conversation for another day.”
  • “Confrontation,” West says, but “just be aware that your ability to persuade someone with whom you disagree is quite limited and you likely are going to feel frustrated or angry at the end of the conversation.” Politifact says “consider the setting…do I want to make these at the Thanksgiving dinner table?”
  • West says you can talk to only people who share your views or focus on the undecideds.
  • Politifact suggests possibly approaching those with whom you disagree and understand where they’re coming from, while West says actually listen. “The hardest approach is listening to those who have opposing viewpoints without seeking to persuade them.”
  • “Humor,” says West “may be the last resort. Political jokes are abundant on the internet and in social media, and you can defuse confrontational situations that are spiraling out of control. Rather than see your family arguing around the dinner table, you can try humorous asides that deflect the anger and move the conversation toward a lighter touch.”
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(To learn more from Darrell West, visit the Brookings Website – “Six ways to handle Trump’s impeachment during holiday dinners. Visit the Politifact Website – “Here’s how to fact-check your family at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”)

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