Thanksgiving this year could easily become Fight Club! We could see some “Make America Great Again” hats used as catapults to launch food at liberal relatives or those same hats jammed into the toilet after your Trump-loving uncle keeps calling everything you say “fake news.”
Thanksgiving can be stressful in the best of years. You are trapped talking to your uncle who loves the Dallas Cowboys—or worse, the New England Patriots. And then there’s your aunt who keeps wanting to know why you aren’t married and giving her nieces and nephews.
But this year’s Thanksgiving features one new yuuuuge stressor: Donald J. Trump. Despite the fact that it seems like Trump has been sowing havoc in our lives for years, this is actually the first Thanksgiving in the Trump presidency.
So this year instead of awkward discussions about your life choices, you are now trapped at the table with your cousin on your mom’s side who responds to every comment about Trump by saying, “But what about Hillary Clinton…” But it’s not just progressives versus Trumpers. You could be the most progressive household in Brooklyn complete with a vegan turkey (do they exist?) sitting on an organic, fair trade, animal-friendly tablecloth but all of a sudden someone insists that Bernie really got screwed out of the Democratic nomination in 2016. Next thing you know, organic Brussels sprouts in balsamic glaze are flying at each other. And even a family of all Republicans will likely see blowups this year thanks to Trump as the establishment types are now pitted against the Bannon wing (although to be honest, watching Republicans fight each other makes my heart grow more than the Grinch’s when he discovered the joy of Christmas). All you need is someone at the dinner table saying, “Hey, I want more!” to which another person responds, “Did you just endorse Roy Moore?” and suddenly it’s a make America great food fight.
So how can you have a Thanksgiving that is hopefully free from drumsticks thrown in anger? Well, I turned for guidance to a Democratic activist, a Republican strategist, and two psychologists. Their advice may be the one thing that saves you from transforming your Thanksgiving into fight night.
At the outset, it’s vitally important to understand what exactly is at play when a political “discussion” in time of Trump occurs. Dr. Tim Davis, a Boston area psychologist with over 20 years experience counseling people and a part-time lecturer at Harvard Medical School, explained that in today’s political climate people sincerely believe the “stakes are incredibly high.” He added, “there are people who are convinced that the other political party is an existential threat to America.”
Dr. Dawn Obeidallah Davis (yes, my sister), a developmental psychologist who formerly was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School but now tries to help people cope with life through yoga, explained that political discussions nowadays get so heated it actually can trigger the “fight, flight or freeze” response. “People in a political debate can have the same physiological responses complete with increased heart rate, sweating, and a sense of panic,” she noted.
These two mental health pros recommended one of these two approaches for Trumpsgiving:
- Agree to not talk politics. Dawn Davis suggested this might be the only option for some. You have to be honest. If you know that a political brawl is going to happen then the best chance to avoid is it a ban of all things politics.
- If you need to talk politics, agree to ground rules in advance: Tim Davis suggested agreeing to specific ground rules at the outset such as remaining civil, no personal insults, and no screaming at each other. He also did have one big recommendation: Agree to these rules in advance. If you tell people “stop yelling” out of the blue they may get defensive. But as he noted, if everyone agrees to the rules in advance then collectively these guidelines can be enforced by any person in attendance. For example, if a political discussion is getting too heated observers can say: “But you agreed in advance to no yelling, no personal insults, etc.”
Personally, I would recommend suggestion number two because in the time of Trump it’s almost impossible to avoid politics. We know Trump will tweet something asinine on Thanksgiving, or if you watch the Thanksgiving NFL games that could prompt a political discussion regarding players taking a knee during the national anthem. Plus wouldn’t it be amazing to have a debate with a person who holds different political views that doesn’t end up becoming a shouting match involving the words “libtard” and “Trumpkin”?!
Now let’s turn to advice from political people on how best to stop in fighting within your own political tribe this Thanksgiving:
From the left: Danielle Moodie Mills, a progressive activist and host of SiriusXM radio’s Woke AF, offered this suggestion to progressives who insist on relitigating the 2016 Democratic primary: “Tell them, ‘Look the primary is over and the devil is sitting in the Oval Office.’” Mills also suggested uniting fellow progressives over issues that both sides believe we need to fight Trump on, from health care to the environment to his tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.
From the right: Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist and vocal Trump critic, suggested fellow Republicans who want to avoid heated fights on Thanksgiving should de-escalate the situation by appealing to conservative values and framing issues in way that resonate with those on the right. For example, if a fight erupts Thanksgiving over NFL players kneeling, he suggested that conservatives who disagree frame the issue as, “While I disagree with them using this forum to raise this issue, I love that we live in a country where you are permitted to do that.”
Hopefully these words of wisdom will help your Thanksgiving from morphing from a family gathering into the food fight scene from Animal House. But if all this fails, I’d go with throwing stuffing—it’s easier to mold into ball and it sticks to everything it hits. Happy Thanksgiving!