Surviving Family Politics At Thanksgiving

Download Audio
(John Moore/Getty Images)
(John Moore/Getty Images)

"Hello — and you're wrong." Family politics at Thanksgiving. We talk about red and blue sitting down together, and ask how that conversation goes.


Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute. Co-host of American Public Media’s "Awesome Etiquette" podcast. Author of several books on etiquette, including "Higher Etiquette" and updated editions of "Emily Post’s Etiquette." (@LizzieAPost)

Dana Milbank, syndicated columnist with the Washington Post who covers national politics. (@Milbank)

Lynn Parsley, family counselor. Author of "Staying Together for At Least 50 Years: Keeping Love Alive for a Lifetime."

From The Reading List

Washington Post: "Have different politics from your family? Here’s how to survive Thanksgiving." — "On Thanksgiving, most of us gather around the table with people we’re related to or who have become kin through friendship. For many of us, that table is also a minefield — just waiting to be detonated by political opinions.

"In our national political climate, nastiness has become an art form and escalating attacks on the opposition are celebrated. It’s unlikely that the politicians will lead a call for civility. So, it is up to us to begin restoring courtesy and respect, not just in politics, but also in our everyday lives. Many of us will be brought to the test Thursday.

"Science has determined that both incivility and kindness are contagious. Like a virus, they’re transmitted from one person to the next. If we experience rudeness or kindness — even if we only witness them — we will tend toward that behavior in our next encounters. So, we have a choice of which contagion we want to spread. It seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of factors can get in the way."

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Opinion: Fight with family this Thanksgiving — science has your back" — "One of my first observations after immigrating to the U.S. in 2013 is that Americans are allergic to face-to-face conflict. Coming from a Tel Aviv, Israel, home where every family dinner quickly turned to a screaming match about political issues before the main course, 'agreeing-to-disagree' was new to me. I quickly learned it’s a necessary skill in the U.S. — especially in family affairs. According to one poll, close to 60% of Americans dread the thought of talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner.

"The threat is so ingrained in American culture that every year ahead of Thanksgiving, the internet rolls out guides on how to 'survive' the evening.

"But in reality, very few Americans actually fight about politics on Thanksgiving. A 2017 HuffPost/YouGov survey found that only 3% of Americans said that they are 'very likely,' and 8% are 'somewhat likely,' to get into a political argument with family members during Thanksgiving dinner. The result held at 3% for people who expected both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters to attend the dinner, though 20% said they are 'somewhat likely' to argue.

"One reason might be that people are just cutting dinner short to avoid politics."

Tampa Bay Times: "PolitiFact’s guide to fact-checking your family at Thanksgiving" — "Thanksgiving is a time for turkey, football, pie — and political arguments with your relatives.

"Nearly half of Americans say they avoid having political discussions during the holidays, according to a 2017 poll. And if politics do come up at the Thanksgiving dinner table, about the same proportion said they would change the subject.

"Meanwhile, a June survey found that most Americans say political discourse has worsened under the Trump administration and that discussing politics with people they disagree with is "stressful and frustrating." That’s not likely to change anytime soon, as impeachment proceedings against the president — which Americans are starkly divided over — continue in Congress."

This program aired on November 27, 2019.


Headshot of Anthony Brooks

Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.


Headshot of Grace Tatter

Grace Tatter Producer, The Great Wager
Grace Tatter is an independent journalist and audio producer.



More from On Point

Listen Live