The How to Handle Your Family Around the Holidays piece has been so done to death that parodies of the genre almost seem tired. A quick Google search of the phrase produces over 300,000 results, some of which lead to Oprah dot com. It seems like everybody in America has, for years, had this one racist uncle who is so painfully unwoke that dealing with him for even an afternoon presents a renewing annual dilemma.
Boy, should we feel silly now.
This year promises to be beyond any advice a blog post or servicey magazine column can offer. For most of those celebrating it, a post-Trump-election Thanksgiving 2016 is going to be the least celebratory Thanksgiving ever.
It’s going to be a bad Thanksgiving for families with divided voting records, of course, a sort of Facebook: The Musical, but only with shouting and right in your living room. There will be storm-outs. There will be no-shows. There will be finger-pointing and blame thrown around like confetti. There will almost certainly be spit or other bodily fluids placed in a shared entree that only those with the same political affiliations as its chef were told about. Why is only Aunt Denise’s family eating our sweet potatoes, Mommy? Because Aunt Denise cast a protest vote for Jill Stein, angel. And if Aunt Denise loves the environment so much then I’m sure a little organic spit won’t hurt her.
But even families with homogenous voting records are going to have a rough time of it this year. Families in blue states that spent last year sparring about Hillary versus Bernie will flatten their mashed potatoes and carve their Tofurkeys in stony silence, a room full of people who feel as if they were on Nov. 8 sentenced to four-year prison terms that begin in mere weeks. Our orange president-elect may as well be an orange jumpsuit cut to size. It’s all over. The drinks will be sad-drinks, the toasts will be Heaven Help Us toasts. The children of second-wave feminists who are visiting home for the first time post-election will look into the eyes of their mothers and see a sadness in them that they cannot remedy. It will be the gutting sort of helplessness that comes when one envisions their mother being bullied or abandoned or unloved as a little girl. Somebody will point out that the family dog will not live to see the first female president, and that will, for a reason that half of the people in the room understand, cause a torrent of sobs. The other half will instruct the crying people to stop crying, and then there will be a whole fight about that, too.
Families comprised of people who aren’t in the Trump camp’s favored groups—Mexicans, Muslims, Jewish people who aren’t Jared Kushner and family, immigrants, LGBTQ families—are going to experience an even grimmer Thanksgiving, faced with the horrifying possibility that the President Donald Trump administration might actually follow through on his campaign promises come January. Their fear—and their disappointment with their fellow citizens—will have a shape, the shape of Donald Trump’s curiously formed mouth. The shape of Mike Pence’s head. The shape of a swastika plastered on a college dorm bathroom on Nov. 9, the shape of the n-word spelled out on a handwritten sign, hastily written in magic marker on a scrap of cardboard on the way to the Trump rally.
Conservative families, if they weren’t lockstep Trump fans, might have a tough time parsing the thrill they got from watching Hillary Clinton lose from the nibbling fear they all have that Donald Trump doesn’t know and has never known what the hell he’s doing. The man’s never even served as a member of the city council, one family member might say, three domestic beers deep (because, come on, beer is beer), he’s never served on law enforcement or in the military and now he’s the commander in chief and he’s got the nuclear launch codes. Shut up and watch the Lions lose, another will say. Dread will roll into the room like a San Francisco fog.
But the most uncomfortable Thanksgiving might happen in Trump Tower itself. Push aside, for a moment, public demands to refuse to seek a place of empathy with Trump voters and seek instead empathy with President-elect Donald Trump. Imagine how you would feel if you started running a campaign, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom-style, in an attempt to get as much profit as possible from a public comprised mostly of suckers. Imagine if you tried to flop, as hard as you could, with a plan built right into your loss to found a media company that would further suckle the teats of your adoring fans in perpetuity. Imagine a haphazard campaign based on idiotic social media braying and pants-off call-ins to Morning Joe that ended up beating the greatest political strategists money could buy. Imagine if after all that, your worst-laid plans led you to the White House, to the presidency, to a job where you are expected to work for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and move from your gilded sky-womb on Fifth Avenue into an old house in Washington, DC.
Imagine having to pay attention to people for minutes, even hours on end. Imagine having to listen. You’ve never had to listen. Imagine how horrible that would feel, knowing you had to spend the next four years listening to things that aren’t people cheering for you or the sound of your own voice amplified on large speakers. Now imagine a whole family of people who can’t believe you actually did it, that this guy, the one who can barely keep a sentence together, the one who relates to every other place that is not New York based on whether or not he owns property there, is going to be the leader of the free world. This guy is going to be the president. That’s a lot to chew on in addition to Trump brand steaks. Barron has to switch schools. Melania has to do more than take an elevator to pop into Gucci and pick up a new pussybow top. Ivanka has to make friends in D.C. Eric and Donald Jr. will get less time off to travel to Africa to kill large animals. By then, it should all be sinking in.
What I wouldn’t pay to be a fly on that Dean & DeLuca-catered sweet potato pie.