The Pacifist’s Guide To A Productive Thanksgiving
You’re about to share a table with Trump supporters. Don’t miss this opportunity to change their minds
"A Thanksgiving Truce" by John Pughe, 1870-1909, artist. Illustration shows Theodore Roosevelt sharing a feast with many wild animals. "Here's hoping that when next we meet, we see you first." Image via Universal History Archive/UIG
I think I must be a member of this godless, New York City “liberal elite,” according to media stereotypes. I’ve cried on and off for nearly two weeks because Hillary didn’t win. I wake up at 4 a.m. every day and check the news to see if they’ve verified that Russia hacked the system and the wrong man won—not just the popular vote, but the Electoral College, too. I’m a yoga-practicing, NPR-listening, The New York Times-reading, artisanal bread-buying author/illustrator with soft, book-loving hands. On every single political issue, I couldn’t be any more to the left.
It me. Image via Bettmann/Contributor
But let me tell you something else. I am from southern Missouri. I grew up with a single mom who didn’t graduate from high school. I survived on free-lunch programs and government cheese, and I went to college only because of federal assistance. And I’m related to and deeply love many Trump supporters. I’ll be breaking decidely non-artisanal bread with these people several times in the coming weeks.
If you’re like me and are related to people who voted for Trump, you’re probably tempted to call it a day and spend your holiday on a beach in Mexico, celebrating the culture that Donald Trump has viciously maligned. Don’t. It’s more important than ever to show up and be the face of the “other side.”
My family knows me and where I come from, so they can’t dismiss me as an arrogant, out-of-touch New Yorker—at least not entirely. I also don’t want to be a human being who sets herself apart from or above other human beings, though this election has certainly brought up that inclination in me. I’ve had the urge many times a day to write off every Trump supporter as a disgusting, woman-hating, ignorant bigot. I’m horrified by the fact that everyone who voted for Trump—even if he or she (oh god, there were so many shes!) isn’t actively despicable—was willing to selfishly overlook never-ending evidence of Trump’s malice. It would be so easy to believe that and cut them all off for life.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]What I’ve learned from this horrible year is that silence is consent.[/quote]
But because I know my family, I know better. So I’m going to meet them around the table—and because I suspect you’ll be doing the same, here’s my advice for changing a few minds (or at least finding common ground) over a hearty meal.
Remember who they are.
My Trump-supporting relatives have been, almost unanimously, card-carrying union supporters their entire lives—railroad workers, welders, small-business owners, teachers, people who hunt for their food, people who, by the way, enthusiastically voted for Obama. I’m fighting with myself to remember who I know them to be and what they are made of. These are the same people who stood by my side during a frightening illness, gave me handmade quilts to keep me warm, fed me ice cream and pep talks after various life disappointments, and have forgiven me for being less than my best self. They give canned goods to the homeless and bring casseroles to the sick. And they rejoiced when Game of Thrones’s Ramsay Bolton was finally killed. They are still good and decent people at their core.
It’s not personal.
This is not what your relatives were thinking when they cast their ballots: that their votes would be a slap in the face to all women in America. That it’s ok to grab anyone by the genitals if they don’t want you to. That whole families they know and love will be torn apart by deportation. That a Muslim registry parallels policies from the darkest periods in world history. Their vote wasn’t about you, anyone you know, or even anyone they know. It was based on a gut feeling. More on that later.
Understand that we are operating with different sets of information.
One example: Donald Trump is bad at business (with at least four bankruptcies, as well as countless contractors he refused to pay). Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people post that they think this great businessman will be good for America. For every article that the left read and shared about how scary Trump was and is, there was an equally terrible article being read and shared about the person we believed in. Fundamentally, we are operating and making decisions with different information, and those who voted for Trump feel just as righteous as we do that they’re on the side of good.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]You’re probably tempted to spend your holiday on a beach in Mexico, celebrating the culture that Trump viciously maligned. Don’t. [/quote]
My brother’s partner is a Peruvian woman and they have a little girl. To my horror, he voted for Trump. To me, this is the trifecta. He is endangering all that he loves: women, people of color, children who will have no earth to grow up on without action on climate change. Yet, he believes he has done the right thing by voting Trump.
It’s time to listen.
They work hard every single day and come home tired and beaten down by the world and by a system that makes them feel as if it’s against them. The media they consume makes them afraid of “the other,” and, if they don’t live in a city, chances are they rarely interact with people who don’t resemble them, so they focused on Trump’s economic policy and maintaining their values in the Supreme Court. I’m not excusing them; this attitude is dangerously misguided and selfish. But there it is. History tells us people will do desperate things when they are afraid. What is more desperate than electing a morally bankrupt, KKK-endorsed, silver-spoon-fed billionaire and hoping he will save the common man? Listen to their concerns, and don’t immediately step in to tell them why you think they’re wrong. Let them vent to you instead of in the voting booth.
Picture your common enemy.
Arm yourself this holiday. Image via Underwood Archives
Nothing can bridge the gap between people more than a shared villain. If you’re concerned about fake news or exploitative cable punditry, reach out to Trump supporters and point out that both Fox News and CNN are owned by capitalists who made money on our nation’s divided fervor. Then, take this crucial opportunity to contextualize information bias, echo chambers, and spin (and remember that even savvy liberals can be taken in by outrageous reports catering to their biases).
I’ve already made huge strides with my family by discussing slanted media, especially by pointing out that international outlets like the BBC or The Guardian may be a little more impartial. Tell them to balance their Fox News fix with some NPR, and promise to balance your news sources, too. (While you’re at it, try to to dispel any notions about Snopes as a partisan site.)
Have the uncomfortable conversation.
My relatives know where I stand and we’ve managed to get along for years by politely agreeing to disagree when it comes to politics; we’ve always changed the subject and said, “pass the potatoes.” I’m a pacifist to an embarrassing degree. Wouldn’t it be easier to just let them believe how they believe? I’ll never see the other side of the argument, after all, and there’s a reason I left to build a chosen family on the coast. But that’s how we got here. What I’ve learned from this horrible year is that silence is consent.
Don’t apologize for your views.
This country is divided, and despite my advice here, it isn’t your job to “reach out” simply because your family made the wrong choice on the ballot. Don’t be sorry about your views and don’t make excuses for your loved ones. Think pragmatically: If we want to avoid another election like this one, we have to rise above and be there to welcome new people into a political party that errs on the side of goodness, inclusion, and tolerance. I believe this is a war that will be fought and won across dinner tables and back porches. Yes, over the next four years, it is going to feel like we are cleaning up someone else’s mess. But there isn’t any other choice if we want a better outcome next time.