To those of you racked with this sense of foreboding, I say, go home to your families; at this critical moment in American history it is now more important than ever that we try to talk through our differences, and there is no more possible place for us to begin to do so than with the ones we love.
I know it may sound pointless and Pollyanna-ish to make this appeal, but let me present a real-world example to bolster my case. A progressive friend of mine originally from Ohio confided in me this week how he was enduring the very agony so many New Yorkers are experiencing about the holidays.
His relatives back home are enthusiastic Trump supporters, and his brother regularly takes to Facebook to disseminate the type of posts you don’t have to be a hardcore liberal to find racist and disgusting.
Not only had my friend debated whether to subject his wife and child to Thanksgiving dinner with his Trump-loving kin, he seriously grappled with the possibility of severing relations with them altogether, as painful as it would be to do so.
To his great credit, my friend chose reconciliation over recrimination and called up his brother to explain his anger at both the outcome of the election and the toxic rhetoric he was ashamed to see his bother espouse.
What ensued, in my friend’s words, was a “knock-down-drag-out” fight which was just as ugly and gut-wrenching as we always fear such confrontations will be—and precisely why we so assiduously avoid them.
But out of the hail of invective there emerged slowly, painfully a faint glimmer of understanding—certainly no epiphany—but enough of an appreciation for each other’s perspective that my friend bemoaned not having brought the simmering conflict with his brother to a boil months ago, before the election was decided.
Of course, not all of us will make even this baby step of progress taking on our loved ones, but we owe it to both ourselves and our families not to give up on each other. Particularly if you fear that Trump’s election is a harbinger of the apocalypse or marks the triumph of hatred over empathy, it is your obligation to our nation to do everything you can to pull us back from the precipice—and there is no more likely way you can make a difference than by changing the minds of the people you love, one at a time.
But don’t just engage your family members over the kitchen table to rescue them from their wrongheadedness, do it to expand the acuity of your own thinking.
Over the last week I have heard far too many of my fellow progressives dismiss Trump’s voters as racists, misogynists and fascists. While there are certainly a depressing number of them that deserve these characterizations, to brush aside the more than 61 million Americans who cast their ballots for Trump as mere hateful idiots is to perpetuate the liberal elitism that helped fuel Trump’s success and to disregard the economic and social problems plaguing our country.
There was a reason that Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s cries for economic populism intermingled to a discomfiting degree during the campaign season: America is in thrall to corporate interests at the expense of blue-collar and low-wage workers; both parties were complicit in giving Wall Street a pass in the wake of the 2008 fiscal crisis; Democratic and Republican administrations have both driven disastrous deregulation in service of the donor class.
Let’s be clear: The outrage so many Americans rightfully feel at our rigged system is no excuse whatsoever for racism and xenophobia. And the hatred of the other that seethes through our nation is a conflagration we can no longer tiptoe around in the hope it will burn itself out.
But we must also acknowledge that when hard-working people cannot support their families, when they suffer the loss of their dignity, when they can’t see a path for their children to have a better life than their own—the very crux of the American dream—these are conditions that can both unleash the ugliest elements of human nature—and propel people to throw caution and reason to the wind for the simple promise of hope and change.
So this Thanksgiving don’t turn your back on your Trump-loving family members and try to wish them out of existence. If you’re certain their vote will lead to some extinction-level event, on the bright side you won’t have to worry about where you spend the holidays next year.
But on the off chance America survives the four long years ahead, get started now convincing your loved ones not to make the same mistake next time.