People are bringing more than stuffing, green beans and cornbread to Thanksgiving dinner. They’re also bringing highly partisan views of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
This may make it difficult to finish your drumstick — or tofurkey.
To navigate the holiday, The Wash talked to Anita Barbee, a Kentucky-based psychologist and professor at the University of Louisville who specializes in group relationships.
These are her tips — and some advice from others:
1. Avoid a debate – or it’s ‘alright, now shut up’
Barbee says family members should avoid getting into a heated state where they might react emotionally.
“You want to preserve relationships. Relationships are more important than politics, and that’s hard for me to say, because I’m very partisan,” Barbee said.
Brian Higginbotham tries to avoid the sensitive stuff. He is a Washington, D.C., native but he usually goes to Massanutten, Virginia, to celebrate Thanksgiving.
For Higginbotham, staying in a vacation house among picturesque mountains surrounding a ski resort is pretty serene. There’s not a lot of political discourse, since arguments in his family are mostly about sports.
“There’s a lot of Cowboys and Redskins fans in my family,” he said.
But Higginbotham, a 21-year-old restaurant server, said it might be hard to avoid conversations about the impeachment hearings.
“I usually don’t like to get into conversations like that, unless someone says something ridiculous, then I have to go ‘alright now shut up.’”
Chris Green, 30, is an Arlington, Virginia, resident who uses the avoidance tactic.
Green starts Thanksgiving Day in the early morning with a game of flag football among friends. Then, he drives to Annapolis, Maryland, to spend time with family.
When political arguments arise among family members, Green tries to end them as swiftly as possible.
“Tensions run so high, it gets shut down pretty quickly.”
If it’s later in the day, though, his tactics may change.
“If it’s early on, and it’s talked about, I’ll kind of let it play out,” he said. “If it’s a little bit later on in the day, once people have had a few beers or a few cocktails, I’ll either try to leave the room or try to shut it down and remind everybody that we’re here to celebrate family and to just have a good time.”
2. Stay away from extreme relatives
According to Barbee, you should just “let it go” once things escalate. This is even more true if your family member or friend has highly partisan views.
“It’s difficult to change people’s thinking once they’ve kind of set a course,” Barbee said. “Most people know their family well enough to know, ‘is this somebody who’s way on the right side of the impeachment with a MAGA hat, or are they kind of in the middle?’”
Joe Kelly, 20, an American University student, has a name for this: “The Thanksgiving Day Massacre.” Kelly is from Plymouth, Massachusetts, the coastal town where the Thanksgiving tradition began in 1621.
A few years ago, his “very liberal” grandparents and his “very left” uncles came with their families. His other uncle, a far-right Trump supporter, came too.
“They converged, it was just an absolute disaster,” Kelly said. “They were talking about Trump. They were screaming. There was a fist fight that was about to break out … it was pretty tense.”
Kelly said his left-leaning uncles and grandparents haven’t returned to Thanksgiving Day celebrations since.
“We don’t think it’s a very good idea. It really sucks that that can divide families,” Kelly said.
3. Focus on one-on-one conversations
Barbee says find a like-minded relative for a one-on-one.
“Instead of having a conversation with everybody at a table and espousing views, it’s better to have one-on-one conversations,” she said. Look to see if there’s someone who agrees with you and, if the conversation becomes tense, “just change the subject, we need to preserve our relationship,” Barbee said.
Henry Ross, an AU theater major, 20, is from a New York suburb, but he usually has a big Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Manhattan. According to Ross, everyone in his family has left-leaning views and will be on the same page regarding the hearings.
“It will be like, my grandpa will make a comment of how bad he is, and everyone’s like, ‘yeah, we’re all mad,’” Ross said. “It’s really like, don’t bring it up, there’s no point.”
Ross expects the impeachment conversation to be mostly commiserating and “griping.”
“Honestly, I feel like they’re more informed than I am,” Ross said. “I’m not a very political person. We all kind of have our left beliefs… there’s not much discourse really.”
4. If you want to debate, do your homework
If you do wish to have impeachment discussions, you should “bring reason and good sources,” Barbee said.
“Try to bring facts to the table rather than emotion, because, I think, that’s where we miss a lot,” she said.
People tend to associate a sense of self with their political affiliations and religions. When you argue about the impeachment hearings, it might challenge a person’s identity and “puncture their worldview” making it feel like a personal affront rather than an intelligent conversation, Barbee said.
“Many people can’t be dispassionate,” Barbee said. “They’ve incorporated the idea into themselves. It’s who they are, how they are in the world.”
5. Eat and try to enjoy the company
The best approach may be to enjoy your friends and family by stuffing so much food into your face that you won’t be able to comment on the impeachment hearings — whatever your political views may be.