Politics at the Dinner Table: How to Keep Cool When Talking Trump With the Fam

Family Dinner BELatina subject of politics

With President Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives fresh on our minds, many of us are experiencing anxiety over what we ought to do when the subject of politics comes up at a holiday gathering. Do we engage in a conversation about politics among family members who may or may not share our views on whether our country desperately needs a real leader? Do we risk saying something we might regret to a cousin who is clearly drinking the conspiracy theory Kool-Aid? Do we simply acknowledge that we agree to disagree, and pledge to not say one single word about politics in order to maintain familial harmony?

Everyone’s family circumstances are different, but if you’re getting together with loved ones for a holiday celebration before the end of the year (as opposed to avoiding them altogether), chances are that there’s hope for you to talk politics in a way that is necessary, meaningful, and civil. While it is undoubtedly easier and more sanity-sparing to avoid having conversations with a loved one who holds deep-seated, opposing views that intentionally or unintentionally feed into inequality and bigotry within our political system, now is not the time to stay silent. 

Even if you’re the most radically principled progressive on the planet who happens to be related to MAGA hat-clutching devotees of the president, there’s a way for you — in fact, a need for you — to find common ground with the people who are woven into the fabric of your life, people who may not typically be open to hearing the perspective of the “other” but would be willing to hear you out. You might actually learn something, yourself, about the political “other” in a way that you never would have been open to before. 

This is a Conversation, Not a Debate

Whatever you do, don’t freak out. “Our relatives are the victims of Trump’s lies, of Trump’s policies, of his raids on democracy, of his tax cuts for the rich, of his tariffs, of his assaults on affordable health care, of his terrorization of job-creating immigrants, of his do-nothing climate and gun policies, of his use of the presidential power to enrich himself rather than low- and middle-income Americans,” wrote Ibram X. Kendi, an antiracist activist, for The Atlantic last month. Remember these realities, mantra-like, when you have the urge to lash out at Trump-supporting family members. 

If you’re 100 percent right about the fact that, for example, “The Wall” won’t actually keep migrants from crossing the border (and it’s worth considering that, more often than not, we’re not 100 percent right), the point of engaging in uncomfortable, difficult, political dialogue with your loved ones is not to prove that you’re correct and that they’re wrong. That’s a recipe for a blowout. The point of talking politics with your family this holiday season is to create meaningful change that puts the country on the path to a more equitable and just future. Instead, talk about how you would like America to have a leader that does not even consider imposing policies of family separation in order to deal with migration; a majority of Americans opposed this policy in 2018, something that ultimately had the Trump administration backtracking on its unethical practice of separating families at the border. 

There are certainly many other things that your relative also finds detestable about Trump, even if they might consider themselves an ardent supporter, so it’s worth considering what those things might be. Maybe your uncle doesn’t believe in manmade climate change, but he probably isn’t keen on the idea that toxic waste can now be dumped into our waterways, thanks to the EPA’s recent decision to roll back clean water protections. Perhaps your mom refuses to accept the idea that gender identity does not always match the sex that one was assigned at birth, but she can probably agree that every person who needs emergency medical care should be admitted into an ER, regardless of whether their gender identity conforms with societal norms. 

Or, keep the conversation as simple as, “Are you registered to vote in the 2020 elections?” Whatever the issue, talk about the things that are important to you and find a way to connect those to your relatives in a way that they can say, “Oh, I see what you mean.” Don’t expect a full-on political conversion here, but do expect to be surprised to find common ground in places that you thought were no-go-zones. 

Now Is Not the Time for Complacency 

Talking politics over the holidays is infinitely easier when everyone in the family is more-or-less aligned politically. Open up a nice bottle of bubbly and raise your glasses to salute the House of Representatives for following through on their Constitutional duties in their decision to impeach President Trump for obstruction of justice… well, enough of them did, anyway. Share some ridic memes, blow off some steam — you all deserve some much-needed catharsis after weeks of civic agony!

But don’t lose sight of the fact that the struggle isn’t over. It never is: Civic engagement is a never-ending American duty. So, use this opportunity with your loved ones to set some goals in the coming year pertaining to local and national politics. I mean, when you’re all in agreement over what needs to be done, whether it be to increase voter registration within your community, protesting the construction of a pipeline, or raising money for organizations like the RAICES, you basically have a built-in, grassroots collective all under one roof, ready to enact change. 

Ultimately, regardless of whether you’re in agreement or disagreement with your fam, the subject of politics is bound to come up at some point in your festivities this holiday season. And while talk of Trump shouldn’t be the focus of your shindig — love, gratitude, and celebration should be the star — make the most of those opportunities to bridge the gaps in what is a very divided nation, starting on your home turf.