From the blog

5 Ways to Avoid Awkward Political Arguments this Thanksgiving

Norman%20Rockwell%20PrintWARNING! Thanksgiving is coming, and your Uncle is TOTALLY going to assault you with his ignorant politics! Prepare to DESTROY him with these brilliant talking points!

That’s the gist of my Twitter feed the past couple days. And it’s a terrible idea. You won’t change your uncle’s1 politics, and he won’t change yours. You’ll just think he’s an ignorant old jerk, and he’ll think you’re a snooty little jerk.

So what should you do when you disagree with your relatives at Thanksgiving? Don’t worry. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the day with as little awkwardness as possible.

Step 1: Walk in with the right attitude

The Evil Uncle articles assume that disagreeing with a family member about politics is some horrible thing. It’s actually normal.

Take my dad’s side of the family. Between aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and cousins’ kids, there are forty-two of us Mellemas. With that many people, we’re going to disagree about stuff. It would be kind of weird if we didn’t. And we Mellemas disagree about plenty–we have everyone from Bernie Sanders supporters to Ben Carson supporters.

That’s normal.

So when you walk through your grandma’s front door to the full range of zany relatives, don’t start scrolling through Twitter for talking points. Relax.

Step 2: Avoid Thanksgiving table arguments

Once you sit at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, you should avoid political arguments.

Let me be clear.2 I’m not telling you to bottle all your feelings until they burst out in a fit of boiling rage. It’s important to have honest disagreements with your family.

But Thanksgiving dinner is not the place.

Say you’re at the table, and that aunt3 who keeps sharing Donald Trump articles on Facebook asks you about the Syrian refugees. It’s impossible to have a healthy argument. Swarmed by chattering relatives, interrupted by clanking plates and requests for gravy, you can’t give a careful presentation of your views. You’ll be lucky to get in a tweet-sized talking point. One that your aunt will pounce on.

Families also have too much baggage for Thanksgiving table debates. When your sister says something about the Mizzou protesters you don’t like, are you only upset because of her views? Or are you also upset because she’s always been so selfish, and this is just the latest example of how she only thinks of herself and never considers others. It’s like that ski trip to Utah all over again! There’s a good chance these other feelings will bleed into your Mizzou response. That’s not good for anyone.

Step 3: Survive the one-on-one pie debate

The main meal ends, and everybody shuffles to the kitchen for pie. Along the way, that same aunt corners you by the fridge to finish her thoughts on Trump. What do you do now?

If your aunt is at heart a reasonable person, then you could just have a civil discussion. I thought this article gave good advice on discussing politics with families respectfully.

But if your aunt is only interested in spouting her own views, take a different approach. I learned this during my tour guide days, when I had to listen to visitors complain about weird stuff all the time:

Let them rant, find something neutral to compliment, then change the subject.


[nodding head while rant finishes]. You: Huh, that does sound like a complicated situation. I can tell you’ve read a lot about it. Do you think it would it be alright if I had a piece of pecan pie AND cherry pie?

But let’s say this doesn’t work. As you slide the second piece of pie onto your plate, your aunt keeps peppering you with Trump quotes. You can feel your blood pressure rising. What do you do now?

Step 4: Use the Grandma Betty method

Years ago, my Grandma Betty was trapped at a family gathering, and one of her relatives was driving her crazy with his politics. She was afraid she was about to say something she’d regret. Unsure of what else to do, she headed toward the bathroom. When she came out a few minutes later, she was calm and ready to deal with her crazy relative.

A method was born.

I use the Grandma Betty method all the time. Whenever I’m getting agitated about politics, I head to the bathroom, lock the door, and let the solitude wash over me. Then after a few minutes of scrolling through the ESPN app on the toilet4, I’m ready to face the politics with a better attitude.

Is this a long term solution for people you see every day? Probably not. But can it work with relatives you only see once a year? Absolutely.

You wander into the living room as your uncle turns the football game on. You plop down on the couch in between your Bernie Sanders cousin and your Ben Carson cousin. Then they start arguing economics.

Step 5: Stay out of the crossfire

When I’m caught in the middle of an argument, I try to end it as quickly as possible. I use a technique I call “joke and pivot.” Make a joke about a politically-neutral aspect of the conversation, then change the subject. An example:

[Bernie cousin is making a point about income inequality, and Carson cousin is rolling his eyes] You: I like how Bernie refuses to buy suits that fit. It really helps his income inequality argument. Now could someone pass me the remote? I don’t want to miss seeing the Cowboys blow another 4th quarter lead [start five minute monologue on how awful the Cowboys are5].

Maybe none of this will work. Maybe your cousins will ignore your insights on Jerry Jones’ hubris and keep arguing politics.

In the end, that’s not so bad.

Part of having a family is being thankful for them: quirks and all. You can love your Trump aunt, your Bernie cousin, and your Mizzou sister, even if you think they have crazy ideas. They probably do the same for you.

And if all else fails, you could always turn up the volume on the TV….

Happy Thanksgiving! Say hello to your uncle for me. Anybody else have advice on dealing with family politics?

Photo credit: Norman Rockwell


1  By the way, why do all these articles pick on uncles?  Can’t anyone have a crazy great aunt, or a crazy brother-in-law?

2  Oh, now that I’m thinking about it, you should avoid talking about Obama. Too controversial.

3  Notice I used aunt instead of uncle.  I like going against the grain with this blog…

4  What? Doesn’t everybody do that?

5  Yes, I do have a five minute monologue about why I hate the Cowboys. I also have one for the Lakers, Yankees, and Arsenal. For the Patriots, it’s a thirty minute soliloquy, featuring pyrotechnics and a smoke machine.


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