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How Can I Go Home For Thanksgiving After The Election?

(Gabriel Garcia Marengo/Unsplash)
(Gabriel Garcia Marengo/Unsplash)
This article is more than 2 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. I look forward to it all year, and always elect to make the cross country trip home to celebrate turkey day over Christmas, which I also love.

But this year is different. This year, I am dreading the occasion. I’ve even gone so far as to consider cancelling my flight home, rental car reservation, etc. I suspect the same is true for many other politically-divided families all over the U.S.

You see, I have been a staunch and vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton, while the vast majority of my family — direct and extended — are equally forceful and vociferous in their support of Donald Trump.

We had a family reunion this summer, and when the subject of politics came up — in an election year such as this, how could it not?! — things got ugly. I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say I felt ganged up on, ended up in a screaming match with my cousin and I wound up leaving a day early.

I can’t fathom the idea of returning home for Thanksgiving when these feelings are still so raw, only to be antagonized and goaded by my less sensitive family members.

Since then, members of my family have taken to picking apart my political posts on Facebook. I usually ignore them, or disengage when the tone sours, but the same can’t be said for all of my friends online. My dad and another relative have actually gotten into nasty back-and-forths with liberal-minded friends of mine on Facebook threads I started.

It’s all just been so icky, and uncivilized.

Complicating matters further, I’m still completely gutted by Clinton’s loss, and what Trump’s presidency is going to mean for our country.

I can’t fathom the idea of returning home for Thanksgiving when these feelings are still so raw, only to be antagonized and goaded by my less sensitive family members.

I don’t want to be a sore loser, or to stay home with my head in the sand, or to further strain ties with family that I otherwise love and respect very much. I want to engage, and have healthy debate and dialogue – to express my opinions and concerns, and hear them do the same. But this is only possible when both sides are willing to behave like adults, and I don’t know that all of my family is capable of that.

Do you have any advice?

Gratefully yours,
Blue in a blue state
...

Dear Blue,

There are millions of Americans — of all political persuasions — struggling with the exact same dilemma. How to celebrate a holiday that’s about gratitude and family connection when you’re feeling dread and resentment towards your kin? On the other hand, if we’re ever to mend the destructive partisan divide in this country, wouldn’t finding some peaceful resolution within our own families be a great place to start?

This is one of saddest byproducts of Trumpism. The guy could have run as an economic populist, a maverick businessman who was going to shake up the status quo. But he chose to combine that message with a much more destructive pitch, one that involved celebrating bigotry. He never hid who he was. He used race-baiting birtherism to build his national profile. He attacked Latinos, Muslims, and the disabled. He incited violence at his rallies, bragged about sexual predation, and fantasized about his opponent being assassinated. His conduct wasn’t just outside the norms of political behavior in this country. It was cruel and indecent.

This is what makes it hard for you to imagine sitting down to dinner with people who either embraced this rhetoric, or tolerated it in the hopes that a reality TV star might fix Washington.

What I’m getting at here is that Trump is a unique phenomenon in American history. We’ve never had a presidential candidate who appealed so brazenly to the hateful impulses of the electorate.

There’s one part of me that wants to say, in the face of all that, and given your clear sense of anxiety about this visit: Don’t do it. Don’t fly across the country simply to absorb the abuse of your relatives. Just make a lovely meal with friends here, and look toward next year.

...if we’re ever to mend the destructive partisan divide in this country, wouldn’t finding some peaceful resolution within our own families be a great place to start?

Of course, the other part of me is saying just the opposite, that we’ve got to be able to sit down and break bread with our loved ones, and either find a way to avoid political discussions, or to insist that they be conducted with respect and a goal of understanding.

But based on what you’ve written above, it’s unlikely that certain of your family members will be able to embrace, or even abide, that spirit of discourse.

How sad is that?

Incredibly sad.

But it’s also where we are as a culture. Forget about this particular Thanksgiving. It’s just one holiday. The long-term challenge, for those who judged Trump to be a dangerous demagogue, is how to engage with the folks who embraced him. We can’t simply look upon these fellow Americans with scorn, or seek to shame them. That attitude helped Trump get elected. On the other hand, we shouldn’t absorb their bullying.

I do believe it’s possible, and ultimately vital, for you to empathize with the Trump supporters in your family and beyond, and to seek some deeper human connection with them.

Why? Because Trump’s whole goal, right from the start, was to divide us. He didn’t run against Hillary Clinton so much as he ran against empathy and hope. To succumb to this pattern of thought, to a kind of brutal tribalism, would be to surrender a portion of our best selves — our compassion, our moral imagination. Don’t do it.

As for feeling like a “sore loser,” I’d say you’re more like a wounded American. You see a candidate who behaved like a bully, whose rhetoric and policy aims target the most vulnerable citizens among us, and who won with less than half the votes. And all these perceptions hurt. There’s no shame in that. It means you care about our democracy.

One final thought: I suspect that you’ll feel less angry at your family if you’re able to convert some of your anguish and despair over the election into meaningful political action. So maybe spend Thanksgiving (this Thanksgiving, anyway) organizing with friends, or volunteering. Get off social media and find a way to enact your values in the world.

Onward, together,
Steve

Author's note: Let the floodgates of angst be opened! Tell the world what you think about my advice, my political views, and my idealism. Or maybe just skip that and tell us what you plan to do this Turkey Day. And when you’re done with that, send along letter to Heavy Meddle, if you haven’t already. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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