Wissot: Conversations we won’t be having at Thanksgiving dinner
I’d sooner talk about my kinky sexual habits, my penchant for pot, my many phobias, my pet neuroses than bring up the topic of politics at next week’s Thanksgiving dinner table.
At a holiday gathering where some in attendance love Trump and others hate him, where some believe the 2020 election was stolen and others don’t, where some believe climate change is real and others don’t, where some believe abortion is immoral and others don’t, having a calm, civil, candid conversation about our wide-ranging political differences is as remote a possibility as converting the 7-10 split in bowling.
It’s a waste of time to try and change people’s political opinions through rational persuasion because as the great Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift, wrote, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he wasn’t reasoned into.”
Being politically liberal, conservative or independent isn’t something we decide to be, choose to be, elect to be, it’s something we evolve into being over time. How we arrive at our political positions is determined by factors related to our personalities, our families, our friends, our experiences. We don’t change our deeply held political convictions by reading a book, attending a lecture or having a spirited conversation with Uncle Ned while munching pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.
The best thing we can do to foster feelings of empathy and compassion towards the people we love is to not demonize them for their politics. I may really loathe Trump but I don’t need to loathe Uncle Ned who adores him. It’s not cause for alarm that next November, Uncle Ned will vote for Trump and I won’t. Nearly 155 million people voted in the 2020 presidential election and less than 44,000 votes in three battleground states gave Biden his electoral college victory.
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A relatively small number of votes in key states is likely to decide who wins in 2024 and Uncle Ned and my voting in opposition to one another won’t have any effect on the outcome. It’s just foolish for us to damage important family relationships over meaningless and inconsequential political differences.
In our remarkable nation’s 247-year history, we have met the challenges of a Civil War, a Great Depression, two world wars, a Cold War, the assassinations in a five-year period of JFK, RFK and MLK, Watergate, two catastrophic pandemics and a devastating terrorist attack. Now we face the possibility of electing for a second time our first unabashedly autocratic president.
Thwarting a renewed reign of terror against the fabric of democracy in a second Trump presidency is well within the wheelhouse of a country that has shown great strength and perseverance in dealing with demagogues like Joseph McCarthy in the past. McCarthy represented Trump writ small. The American public in the 1950s said enough is enough to McCarthy’s hysteria-inducing anti-communist crusade, penchant for spreading false rumors and making unsubstantiated accusations. The American public in the 2020s is more than capable of pushing back hard against Trump and his brand of deceitful, disinformation politics.
I was inspired to write this column after watching an HBO documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, Nancy’s daughter, titled “The Insurrectionist Next Door.” It’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking in which Pelosi interviewed on camera some of the many rioters who were arrested and convicted for their part in the tragic events of Jan. 6. Pelosi managed to film her subjects in a way that is intimate, revealing, and at times painful. Her subjects don’t fit the stereotype of violent extremists like the Proud Boys all dolled up in camouflage gear ready to do battle with law enforcement assigned to defend the Capitol building from an insurrectionist invasion.
Pelosi’s interviewees come across as dazed and confused by their involvement with the debacle. They believed because of Trump’s fiery rhetoric that they had a right to disrupt the certification of a completely legitimate presidential election and the peaceful transition of power from an outgoing administration to an incoming one. The majority of people Pelosi interviewed were bystanders who fell prey to the mood of a violent mob. As one of them put it, “A lot of very sane people lost their sanity for a couple of hours.”
Pelosi’s subjects represented a diverse cross-section of Americans: straight, gay, educated, uneducated, employed, unemployed, young, and old. They came for a variety of personal reasons. One man was there to get over being dumped by his prostitute girlfriend; a brother and sister were on a road trip that coincidentally found them in Washington D.C. on that day and simply went to the Capitol to check out the hullabaloo.
What they had in common was a loyalty to Trump that never diminished even after they were arrested, convicted and in some cases imprisoned. All of them took full responsibility for their actions. None of them blamed Trump. Pelosi asked them questions in a very direct and at times confrontational manner. To one young woman, she said, “Did you go to the Capitol to assassinate my mother that day?”
In an ironic demonstration of charity on Pelosi’s part, she refused to demonize the rioters the way some of them demonized her mother. For all their faults, she took great pains to showcase their humanity, their ordinariness, their sorrow and their regret.
I’m hoping to bring the same spirit of tolerance and forbearance that is pervasive throughout the Pelosi documentary to the Thanksgiving dinner table. I’m going to try and separate the politics from the person seated next to me. I won’t be engaging Uncle Ned in political conversation.
There are so many more important things to discuss like the Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce celebrity couple pairing and the exciting new condiments added to the McDonald’s menu. I hope you’ll agree with me that the fact we can now put sweet and spicy jam and mambo sauce on our burgers is reason enough to rejoice and show gratitude this Thanksgiving.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com