I saw this tweet yesterday and chuckled, but also thought a lot about it:
There seems to be a lot more discussion in the last few years by progressives online who write about "how to win arguments with you conservative relatives" and generally more agony that usual over the inevitable holiday fights over politics. I think that this agony speaks to something deeper, namely the widening political divide in this country and the higher stakes involved.So do conservatives agonize over dealing with their liberal relatives or are they just too mad about other stuff to care?— Bobby Big Wheel (@BobbyBigWheel) November 24, 2015
I understand it, since I come from a very conservative family, as does my wife. Luckily for us, our parents are reasonable and loving people, and so we all are pretty much party to an unspoken truce not to drag politics into our family time. With my parents the breaking point came fifteen years ago, when the 2000 election between Bush and Gore was still up in the air. After a couple of angry disputes we pretty much decided we'd had enough of that. For all of you out there in the same position, I would recommend a similar course of action. I would just warn you I've had to deflect political discussions initiated by them from time to time.
Of course, relatives in our extended families are not parties to the truce, and so when they come in all bets are off. Since my wife's extended family is so far-flung, this isn't a problem, but when my whole family gets together there will be people trying to bait me. Since I am greatly outnumbered it's also extremely exhausted. We will probably never have a family-wide truce, but I see my extended family so seldom that I am usually just happy to be with them and can let the political stuff slide.
This brings me back to the tweet I quoted above, though. I've realized why in the Thanksgiving Table Wars it's progressives, specifically white progressives, who tend to get the most emotionally wound up about it. Any conservative white family is going to have its share of vocal racists. Sometimes it's just on the level of petty resentment, sometimes on the level of "jokes," and sometimes on the level of boldly-stated bigotry. About twenty years ago one of my cousins basically let it be known that the n-word was not be used in her presence or the presence of her children, and that toned things down, but only a little. It's one thing to have an argument with someone over tax policy, another to talk to someone spewing hate against African Americans, immigrants, gays, and Muslims (this has been a recent favorite). One uncle of mine once made a veiled (but racist in intent) comment about my then Asian girlfriend (who wasn't present.) If we hadn't been in a public place I would have broken his jaw.
As our politics have become more heated, they have become even more racialized than before. With a Right wing that wants to "take our country back" for the "real Americans" there's no question that the color line is a crucial element, if not the most crucial element, to the current political divide. White progressives wringing their hands about having to deal with their white conservative relatives aren't just being effete or solipsistic, they are responding to the very real issue of the mainstreaming of racist resentment in American politics. Like our broader politics, the Thanksgiving Table Wars have escalated. For those of you who haven't managed to broker a truce, I wish you the best of luck.