It starts with seemingly benign questions: Who are you voting for? Did you see that exposé about candidate X on Facebook? Before long, somebody is storming off to the basement or slamming the mashed potatoes on the table. And playing Adele’s new song “Hello” won’t make every family instantly get along (a la SNL’s Thanksgiving Miracle).
We asked NPR listeners for their best and worst experiences talking politics over turkey. Maybe not surprisingly (surveys show one thing most Americans actually unite over is a disdain for politicians), most of the stories we received were not exactly heartwarming — from asking the atheist in the family to please say grace and a refusal to go to church to racist epithets thrown around.
Occasionally, as Stephanie Brown wrote in, duking it out over turkey can actually help clear the air and improve a family dynamic — and there is something to be said for listening to and learning from some one else’s point of view.
But most people find talking about children and sports and shutting people up with a duck quacker way more fun — so NPR’s politics team, and our listeners are serving up some advice to help get you through.
First, the stories:
“A couple of years ago, at dinner, my father-in-law, who had recently re-devoted himself to the Mormon religion of his youth, decided that I should say grace at the table, when he knew quite well I was (and am) an atheist.
I said, ‘That’s OK. Someone else can do it.’
He asked why and I replied that any prayer I said would be insincere and thus disrespectful to the people at the table who were religious.
This immediately started a diatribe about how I was going to hell and corrupting his daughter. This eventually turned into a shouting match between him and my sister-in-law, as it was her house.” –Aaron Harmon
“What started out as an innocent conversation about me not wanting to go to church that weekend … turned into a hotly contested political debate which then turned into a series of heated character attacks. After one emotional blow too many I started to pack up my car to head back to my empty college campus. My sister took over yelling at my dad, and my usually stoic little brother left the house for a walk around the park. I made it as far as the town grocery store before I received a call from my mom asking me to come back home. After much cajoling on her part, I drove back. Our family sat around the dinner table and had our first ever conversation on how we had been hurting each other over the years. Neither side had truly been innocent in the fight, but we realized that this fight wasn’t really over 2012 election results. Talking about the results had brought up some unresolved anger that unfortunately came to a head on Thanksgiving night.
Subsequent years have been better, and we’ve all been more respectful of each other’s politics throughout the year. Mostly :)” –Stephanie Brown
‘This was my last Thanksgiving at home’:
“I think my worst Thanksgiving was when politics ruined more than the meal. We had just seated ourselves around the table and started passing food when someone claimed that Abraham Lincoln should be ashamed for having emancipated the slaves. There was mutual agreement around the table, and even some N words thrown in, and laughter. But, it wasn’t a joke. My girlfriend at the time was horrified, and I was offended and utterly humiliated. I wish I could say I got up and stormed out of the room or challenged them or something, but I just remember being mortified and shocked at the conversation. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I decided in that moment that this was my last Thanksgiving at home. It was, and it was also the last conversation I ever had with my family. Thanksgiving, 1999.” –Jeremy Brown
And the advice:
“We have both very liberal and ultra conservatives in the family so we decided to nip it in the bud. Discussion of politics and religion are out when we are all together. My sister-in-law got a great “duck quacker” (yellow plastic, looks like a duck’s bill and quacks when you blow in it). The instant someone forgets and launches in to one of those subjects, we blow the quacker and it’s over. It has worked great for several years. Of course, you need the buy-in from everyone to abide by the quacker.” –Sally Carleton
Children … or pets … or sports:
“Focus on what you’re there for — each other and the celebration. Talk about the food, and the kids. Small children are an excellent distraction because they are, well, distracting — and everyone in the family can generally agree that they are beautiful and are benefiting from a fantastic gene pool and/or a brilliant collection of relatives. If there are no kids, pets are a good stand-in, as are sports.” -NPR’s Sarah McCammon
“We can love people with whom we disagree, even those by whom we are offended. Humility is intrinsic in love, and it means putting the other person (not their views) before yourself. Instead what I so often hear is condescending remarks and gross generalizations of both sides.” –Luke Aldridge
Passively argue about the food instead of politics:
“Everyone’s there for the food anyway, so make food that causes conversation — even arguments, if you have to. Put something new into the stuffing (in the Midwest, this list includes exotic items like pecans, apples, or literally any spice at all) or introduce a totally out-of-left-field side dish (What? Mozzarella sticks aren’t Thanksgiving food? They are now.). An argument over what “belongs” on the Thanksgiving table is infinitely less uncomfortable than an argument about politics.” -NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben
Ground rules aka behave or eat on the porch:
“My mother has set ground rules for dinner talk that involve politics. If you want to talk about politics you need to respect the other parties opinion (or fake it).
If you don’t you can sit on the back porch and finish dinner in chilly New York weather.” –Brad Heil