Americans are a notoriously far-flung and dispersed bunch. More Americans have moved in the last year than any other country, save Denmark and Finland. Some of us are pushed from the nest but most of us leap. What this means is that during the holidays, when we gather around the laden table, we arrive tired and jet-lagged from places likely remote. If we, like many of us, are back at our folks’ house, this might be the first time the generations have assembled all year.
According to a Pew Research study, the gap between the Silent and the Boomer and the Gen-X, the Millennials is growing in both affiliation and partisanship. So you’ll have, in a room, old and young, rural and urban, likely left and right, crammed into a small house — or in my case, a small apartment. Yes, this is a moment of joy. It is also a tinderbox.
From a fire prevention standpoint, the adage “Don’t talk politics at the table” makes a world of sense. I can describe — and I am not alone, I imagine — the maelstroms that have befallen my festive spread when any issue of even a vaguely political flavor has been raised. In my case, it is almost without fail, about Israel, about which I vehemently disagree with every other member of my family.
Screaming at the table, flecks of spittle and sausage stuffing flying through the air, whilst in the children, their eyes just clearing the table top, is permanently etched a tableau of wrathful grimaces, is probably not the best idea. But heated discussions which burble on just this side of civil? Well, that seems like essential viewing for future civil-minded citizens.
So for the past few seasons, my family has, by mutual if unspoken agreement, limited its conversation to personnel updates and small talk about weather. It is, in other words, boring as fuck and totally surface. No wonder the men wander into the den to watch football, the children retreat into their rooms to argue over little toy truck ownership, and the womenfolk sit around the table engaged in numinous conversation.
Somewhere in the proscription against politics at the table is, of course, the seed of wisdom, or at least expediency. Screaming at the table, flecks of spittle and sausage stuffing flying through the air, whilst in the children, their eyes just clearing the table top, is permanently etched a tableau of wrathful grimaces, is probably not the best idea. But heated discussions which burble on just this side of civil? Well, that seems like essential viewing for future civil-minded citizens.
For a few reasons, you should argue about politics. Firstly, politics affects every single person around the table. And something that impactful — whether it concerns the taxes one will likely pay or friends one will likely never see again or war that will be prosecuted — must be debated and discussed no matter what the forum or how high the cost. The truths are inconvenient but true nonetheless. And one needn’t be a graduate student in American history to see how much we suffer when we’re afraid to engage in uncomfortable conversations regarding our past. Now imagine that for the future.
When looked at from the standpoint not of potential risks avoided — the rage, the trauma, the stony silence — but at the opportunity cost of not modeling engaged discourse for a younger generation, it isn’t just imperative to not avoid discussing politics but it is immoral not to. That’s a lot of negatives in one sentence. In short, talk politics. Talk politics because, presumably, you love these people. Talk politics to hold in your head that you can profoundly disagree with someone and still love them. Talk politics with your family because you know these people and might, therefore, understand from where they’re coming. Talk politics to hone your arguments and to practice remaining calm while being passionate. Talk politics because the people before you aren’t the disembodied Twitter accounts who are probably Russian bots anyway. Talk politics, whichever side you’re on, because democracy doesn’t exist without discourse. Talk politics because otherwise all there is left is to talk is turkey.