There’s a wise old saying and it goes something like this: “Don’t talk politics at the dinner table.”
We know of such a saying for a good reason; it speaks of a simple yet profound truth. A truth we often forget.
As a person, I have always been apolitical, not because I don’t understand politics, but because I understand politics all too well. Not to offend anybody, both parties, as well as both candidates/presidents of both parties, will hereby be dubbed “Side A” and “Side B”. Both sides of the same coin it often seems.
We all agreed to have Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house. Both sides of my family were coming, and being a diverse range of people, I had a strange feeling that things were about to get interesting.
I sensed a slight electric tinge on that cold November morning; something political this way comes.
Many of my relatives were flying and driving in from all across the country. From Seattle, from Austin, from Miami, and even from Jackson, Mississippi. All of them making their pilgrimage to the state of New Mexico where my 89-year-old grandmother still lived and presided as the official matriach of each holiday season.
By afternoon we had all arrived at her place. Everybody seemed in good spirits. There was hugging and laughing and the conventional “how have you been” questions and dialogue. By late afternoon everything was ready and laid out on a long glossy table.
We were ready to dig in, but my Uncle Ralph (he’s the one from Mississippi) said we should say grace. Some of my cousins gave him a slightly perplexed look, but, this was Thanksgiving after all, so nobody had a problem with saying it.
I was copiously loading my plate with mashed potatoes when from the other end of the table I heard a different kind of laughter. Not the warm-spirited good-natured kind; but a high pitched sardonic cackle. The kind you hear on sitcoms when the sarcastic character makes a snide one-liner followed by canned laughter.
Sure enough, Uncle Ralph and his two sons were conversing with my 22-year-old cousin Dave from Seattle. I couldn’t hear much but gradually their voices became louder, more audible.
Dave: “Side A is going to destroy this country if he's not brought to justice."
Uncle Ralph: “Oh, and you think Side B is some kind of angel? He’s a complete moron who's ruining everything about America!”
Dave: “No he isn’t. He’s cleaning up the mess Side A left behind.”
As I spooned up some cranberry sauce (is it sauce or jelly?), I tried to ignore the live debate being aired at the far side of the table, but, slowly and surely, a storm was a-brewing.
Voices were becoming raised and sides were being formed right before my eyes. I remember thinking; how funny, everything was going just fine until politics got brought up — now, are these politics made to bring us together as a nation, as one big happy family, or are they really here to divide us?
I believe the proof is in the Thanksgiving pudding.
Uncle Ralph was now irate. This was no longer a civil debate; it was war expressed through words.
Uncle Ralph: “You’re an idiot just like Side B if you believe his BS!”
Dave was starting to shake but held his ground.
Dave: “The only moron here is you.”
With that Uncle Ralph and his sons shot up and Dave rose to his feet to meet them.
This was utterly ridiculous. I couldn’t believe it.
The next thing I knew, corn, or perhaps stuffing, was being thrown across the table.
All hell was set loose as the rest of my family had to hold back Uncle Ralph, his sons, and Dave.
This wasn't Thanksgiving anymore, this was Wrestlemania. And I had a front row ticket to an absurd spectacle I wanted absolutely no part of.
Uncle Ralph now had some cranberry (sauce/jelly) on his face and Dave was shaking as if he was freezing.
My grandma just sat there, shaking her head, continuing to eat in small birdlike bites. I think she was the only one with any common sense that day.
Ralph and his kids were banished from the table, disappearing into the night and back to Mississippi. We all tried to return to our dinner but something didn't feel right... thankfully, nobody else brought up politics!
Needless to say, we never had another Thanksgiving like that again. Now, only certain sides of my family will get together. Never again will there be all of us eating and laughing at one single table. Those holidays are over.
That makes me really sad, but I know how the human mind works these days: thousands of cognitive biases form around a pseudo-tribal identity (that identity can be based on nearly anything -- not just politics). Say the wrong words to somebody who is identified with a larger group and that person's prehistoric limbic system goes into code red hyperdrive to defend said group.
Identity is a funny thing and these are very odd times to say the least, and also ominous, for what else will politics bring us?
So, dear friends and family, regarless of your political affiliation, let me remind you once and for all: No politics at the thanksgiving table!