Politics and the holidays: Speak out or shut up?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening

Politics is one of the most contentious subjects in our society. Political polarization and the intensity of opinions have never been more pronounced. This can create a perfect storm of conflict during the holidays, when people with widely different views are brought together in the same place, and family dynamics can raise the temperature in the room. 

Most Americans dread the thought of political discussions during the holidays. A recent poll found politics to be one of the most likely causes of family fights. Things have only gotten worse in recent years as the country has become more polarized. Things could be particularly intense this year, with the impeachment inquiry into President Trump going on throughout the holiday season.

Why there’s debate

These factors lead many families to avoid political talk over the holidays, either as a formal rule or an unspoken guideline. With there being little chance of anyone’s minds changing and a high likelihood of hurt feelings, the belief is that it’s better to keep the peace and focus on commonalities rather than divisions. Others say that following political news has become such an all-consuming and exhausting endeavor, it’s nice to have a break even if the topic won’t lead to a fight. 

On the other hand, there are some who believe politics ought to be discussed at holiday gatherings. Family members or close friends can help put a human face on opposing views at a time when rival political parties are increasingly treated as radical enemies. The holidays also provide a rare opportunity to interact with people from different racial, social and economic groups. Finally, some experts believe it’s important for us to understand things that are important to the key people in our lives. If that means providing room for them to discuss political positions they’re passionate about, so be it.

What’s next

This holiday season is coming at a uniquely heated time in American politics, but that doesn’t mean there’s likely to be any relief next year. The 2020 holiday season will take place in the wake of one of the most pivotal elections in U.S. history. The outcome, Trump being reelected or an incoming Democratic president, might be a tough topic to ignore.

Perspectives

Shut up

This year is a particularly bad time to discuss politics

“People feel increasingly uncomfortable around their Fox News-loving grandfather or their New York Times-subscribing granddaughter. And research indicates the solution to this is simply to not engage in political debate. Stick to sports or the weather. But do not mention the White House or its current inhabitant.” — Yaffa Fredrick, CNN

Thanksgiving specifically is about overcoming differences and coming together

“In 2019, the most quintessential of American holidays is a time to sheathe the words of rancor. And it is a time to recall why Abraham Lincoln turned what was once a sporadic national occasion into a regular event that draws people together to practice the core meaning of the holiday.” — Editorial, Christian Science Monitor

Whoever is hosting is allowed to ban politics talk if they choose

“I advise everyone to take a holiday from politics on Thanksgiving. As folks arrive and you take their coats, gently tell them partisan talk won’t be on the table with the stuffing.” — Frank Batavick, Baltimore Sun 

There’s little chance anyone’s mind is changed

“The most important thing to keep in mind over the holidays is that you’re unlikely to change anyone’s mind.” — Madeline Fry, Washington Examiner

Relationships with family and friends are more important than politics

“A woman recently told me that the reason she and her best friend are still best friends — even though she loves Trump and her friend loathes him — is that they have tacitly agreed not to talk about him. … They also believe their friendship is MUCH more important than Donald Trump, even though Donald Trump himself would undoubtedly disagree.” — Ann Cannon, Salt Lake Tribune

We need to be honest with ourselves about whether our families can handle a political debate

“Ideally, we would all be able to gather as families and engage in spirited but respectful conversations regarding the news of the day. I don’t know any family that actually manages to do this (including my own).” — Amy Dickinson, NJ.com

Speak out

The holidays provide a unique chance to hear from differing voices

“Given the increasing segregation of U.S. society by income, education level, religiosity, and political belief, there are few occasions when most Americans are as likely to be in room with other people who (1) hold different political views from them and (2) are obligated to actually interact and talk with them.” — David A. Graham, Atlantic 

People shouldn’t stay quiet about important issues just to keep the peace

“When we make choices not to stand up, then we’re contributing to the problem. Nobody has to put up with being called names or being subjected to racist or sexist or homophobic language ... nobody has to just sit there and take it, even if it’s your family.” — Psychologist Vaile Wright to USA Today

It depends entirely on the situation 

“If it’s been a really tough year for a number of people in the family, maybe the deepest need is just to be together and have joy and ban politics. Or, if by not talking about certain things, we’ve created larger distance in the family, the deepest need might be to have meaningful conversations.” — Conflict resolution expert Priya Parker to New York Times

Focus on making yourself understood, not changing other people’s minds

“However dysfunctional our families may be, chances are we can find something right if we look for it. If you don’t expect a holiday dinner to transform lifelong family dynamics, you won’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.” — Tracey Frank Ellenbogen, Philadelphia Inquirer

State where you stand in broad terms

“It’s a fact of life that people carry different belief systems. You should feel free to call it what it is but not get too into the weeds.” — Psychologist Carl Sheperis to HuffPost

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