On Wednesday, MSNBC's Chris Hayes will devote his show to a topic that should ruin a few family dinners: How to argue with your conservative relatives about politics. It mirrors a for-some-reason resurrected Slate post from last year at this time, in which John Cook describes how to pick a fight on politics. (Mediaite's Noah Rothman, 369 days later, suspects that the piece is "quite satirical.") But, honest to God, if you bring up politics over Thanksgiving dinner — particularly with an aim toward convincing someone of something — you're a bad family member or friend and should never be invited back.
In Cook's defense, politics was a little less avoidable last year at this time, coming close on the heels of President Obama's reelection. Presidential campaigns are fun, demanding that self-respecting adults draw an opinion on one candidate or another and, in theory therefore, on certain policy positions. Unless you are a complete political junkie and / or are paid to pay attention to politics, however, the year after a presidential race is meant to offer normal people a chance to ignore politics for a while. We do not all need to have an opinion on everything all the time; we do not all spend a lot of time formulating opinions or doing the research that would be useful in doing so. So insisting that people who've decided to get together to eat turkey care or opine about the minutiae of politics — a wormhole of deep tedium and incessant contrarianism — is obnoxious. Deeply, deeply obnoxious.
What happens when you demand an opinion of someone on something that they do not care about? One of two things. Either they, one, will become immediately annoyed and hate you and probably yell at you or, two, they will make up an opinion that fits loosely in line with their political beliefs. In neither instance are you making any progress. In the former, you will get in an actual fight in a venue where most people have knives at their immediate disposal. In the latter, you will not convince someone to adopt your point of view, because their opposition will be based on emotion, not rationality. This will not work.
But apparently people need guides on these things. So, with no more ado, our List of Thanksgiving Tips™ for how to avoid and, further, curtail any tedious discussion about politics.
Tip 1: Do not mention obvious political topics. This is pretty straightforward. Do not mention: Healthcare.gov, Obamacare, immigration, Ronald Reagan, the NSA, the Arctic, hanging chads, the Lend-Lease Act, any of it. It seems prohibitive, to be sure, this lengthy list of things for which there exist political overtones. But it's really not! Talk about your family. How they're doing. Their friends. Their jobs. Sports. The weather. The neighborhood. Your city (but not its leaders). Pets. We are not Fox News or CNN; we do not need to fill hours with we're-keeping-an-eye-on-this breaking news alerts about issues that keep Obama up at night. We are normal people who actually have lives that do not revolve around matters of universal importance. Embrace that.
Please note: You may think it is OK to talk about politics because you think all of your Brooklyn/Charleston friends agree with you on everything. They don't.
Tip 2: Do not try to trick people into talking about politics. You think you are clever, perhaps, as do we all, and you may try and trick your hated uncle into weighing in on Obamacare so that you may explain to him the issues related to the website and/or what you think it means for 2014. You get to talk about politics; you do not get the blame for bringing it up.
While passive aggressiveness is a tried and true Thanksgiving tactic, this is a particularly lame way to do it. Use your passive aggression to instead point out that your cousin's new "look" doesn't really work very well for him or to suggest that perhaps your nieces and nephews should sit down and eat instead of being little idiots running around all over. Focus, is the point. If you must undermine those around you, do it in a way that will still be relevant at next year's Thanksgiving.
Tip 3. If someone brings up politics, treat it as you would any other unpleasant and undesired topic. Let's say you're sitting across from your grandmother, and she proceeds to describe the battery of tests to which she was subjected, revealing that her rash was impetigo that required a special cream for treatment. You do not want to talk about this, because it's gross. What do you do? You change the topic. "Oh, well I'm glad they figured it out! Is that why you're wearing that beautiful blouse, Gran? Where did you get it?" And: boom. Topic changed.
You have this skill. You know how to 1) be nice but also 2) not talk about things you don't want to talk about. Worse comes to worse, you get up and go to the sideboard / kitchen / KFC for more sides. By the time you get back, the topic has likely changed regardless. In order to make Thanksgiving one that can be enjoyed by non-jerks, take this approach to political topics.
Tip 4. If someone tries to pick a fight about politics, respond flatly. Say: "You are ruining Thanksgiving, because only rude, self-centered people with chips on their shoulders insist on foisting their political beliefs on groups of loved ones in a venue where it's nearly impossible to avoid contentious conversation." Say: "I won't be goaded into this, and I don't appreciate your bringing up the topic. Let's talk about something else." Say: "Did you see Gran's new blouse? Gran, where did you get that?" (Note: You may call your grandmother something besides "Gran;" substitute that word where appropriate.)
The point is this. You only want to talk about politics to prove how smart and savvy you are. Use that urge for good. Let your high road be the one in which the greater good stands to benefit.
And Mediaite, if you're reading this next year: We mean this quite sincerely.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.