There’s supposed to be a rule that you don’t talk about money, religion, or politics at the dinner table. In normal times, that’s an okay enough rule to abide by. No one wants anyone to start throwing mashed potatoes across the table to make their point about abortion rights. But in case you’ve been asleep all year, these are not even remotely normal times, which means you should not feel obligated to keep silent about politics at Thanksgiving this year. In the immortal words of the Real World: It’s time to stop being polite, and start getting real when it comes to talking current events at the dinner table.
That said, if it frustrates you to talk about politics, you don’t have to. It’s still fine to take the holiday off.
But you should not feel like you can’t share your opinion just because your family members — especially those extended family members you barely know — might not agree with you. Last year, after the contentious campaign season and 2016 election upset, there was a flurry of think pieces on the internet about how to avoid politics during the holidays. A lot of us were so tired last year after the election that maybe that made sense. It was too fresh. But it’s time to not skirt around the important issues with our family members.
It’s insane that our politics are so divisive that we might actually risk having a relationship with family members, but that’s where we’re at. If anything, being polite about politics might be what’s gotten us into this mess in the first place. So, not talking about politics didn’t work out for most people. Let’s try something new this year.
Daniel Post Senning, an etiquette expert from the Emily Post Institute, gave CNN some pointers about holiday political talk last year. He recommended sticking to “Tier 1 topics,” which are: Pop culture, sports and shared experiences like the weather, the food, family matters, or even the holidays themselves.
Tier 2 topics are the doozies that can get you sent to your room until dessert’s over: politics, religion, and sex. “Those are important discussions to have. But they are controversial and require a level of discretion, care and tact to navigate. You have to think about your audience and the potential impact of those discussions,” Senning said.
That’s true — it does take some tact to know how to talk about these issues, especially when you’re still not sure what side grandma’s really on. Right now, though, things are happening that affect so many people negatively, and if your family is actively “for” things you are morally opposed to, you are totally within reason to say something about it.
There might be “many sides” to tax reform or economic treaties. But there just aren’t “many sides” to other pertinent social issues of the day, such as Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow white supremacy, or that black lives matter, or that the LGBTQ community has rights, or that a woman’s right to affordable and quality health care is being undermined by religious zealots in state legislatures, or that gun violence is a problem we need to address, or… Okay, this could go on for a while. The point is, there are a lot of things that are too important to just passively accept people’s wrong opinion on. We get that.
It’s not that politics and dinner don’t mix. It’s that bigotry and ignorance make you lose your appetite.
Maybe you’re lucky enough to not have anyone who lives by the edict of Fox News at your holiday table. If not, you’re allowed to call out “alternative facts” when you hear them. If anything, our inclination to keep the peace and let Aunt Janet share conspiracy theories over pumpkin pie about how Hillary Clinton actually runs a sex ring is one part of why 53 percent of white women voted against their interests last year. More and more, not talking about politics means letting people get away with their BS and delusions. You might not change anyone’s mind before coffee’s served, but you should at least feel comfortable calling them out.
That’s the trick about talking politics at the table, though: You have to know when to back up and when to go in.
According the the Emily Post Institute, “Etiquette is a code of behavior based on treating others with honesty, respect, and consideration.” Surprisingly, you can do that when talking about politics with your family during the holidays. There’s a way to be respectful about letting others share their point of view before butting in and respectfully sharing your own. No one likes someone who doesn’t fight fair when talking about politics or someone who just assumes that a political conversation has to be a fight. Sometimes it doesn’t, and a little self awareness can go a long way when trying to get through to family at the dinner table.
Be real: You know what you’re getting into when you spend time with your fam. If you go into your ultra-conservative uncle’s house rocking a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and lay out a tray of Planned Parenthood and Trevor Project brochures instead of the usual veggies and spinach dip before dinner, you’re stirring the pot. Feel free, by the way, to do that, if that’s what you want to do. But if your cousin goes upstairs to get his “Make America Great Again” hat and spends the rest of the afternoon staring you down, you should at least keep in mind that you totally started it. (And again, start it if that’s what you want to do. We’ve got your back.)
Think of the Thanksgiving table like an IRL internet forum. You don’t want to be the troll fighting in all capital letters, goading others into a fight, all the time. You also don’t need to respond to a family member who is actively trying to bait you.
You can be concise, thoughtful, and link your opinions to as many reliable sources without being The Jerk Who Won’t Let It Go. Being passionate and informed is a good thing, so don’t let anyone shame you into just having a second helping of turkey instead of speaking up for yourself (and others in the room who might not be as badass as you are).
If talking about politics at Thanksgiving gives you anxiety, but you know it’s going to happen, you might want to work on setting some boundaries and making up some rules before you go in.
You know who the trolls in your family are. Maybe promise yourself that you’ll greet them once and then do everything you can to avoid them for the rest of the day so you can cut down on engagement. Make up some canned responses to certain issues. Vow to go high instead of throwing a verbal sucker punch when the conversation starts to spiral out of control. Yell “but her emails!” and walk away instead, or whatever you need to do to keep yourself sane. Write these things down so you really stick to them.
The holidays are tough for so many reasons. You shouldn’t have to bottle up your political views, too. Just be careful out there and remember to do something relaxing afterwards.