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Happy Thanksgiving?, Part I

Several weeks ago, reader G.H. in Branchport asked: "How much damage to relationships do you or readers think has occurred from the widening divisions in political views exacerbated by the party of T-Rump?" We threw that question to the readers, and got many interesting responses. As we noted at the time, we thought it made sense to run those responses over the Thanksgiving holiday. The thinking is that, if you are among those who are going to have to deal with unpleasant relatives who insist on sharing their political views, other readers' stories may give some insight or some solace. You know, misery loves company and all that.

So, here are half a dozen reader stories sent to us in response to G.H.'s question:

  1. P.F in Wixom, MI: I find myself struggling with my own manifesting political division, with a most-likely-very-MAGA sister-in-law and by extension, brother. My family all live in Canada, so at least they cannot contribute to any vote totals that go against my leanings.

    Throughout the pandemic, my sister-in-law sometimes posted videos or articles of questionable scientific integrity, which I didn't care to pay attention to until much later when I felt the need for some review of her stance. I already knew she was a convinced climate science denier, and that my hard-core Christian brother at least, totally believes that Noah's flood in Genesis happened, despite what his favorite public school teacher, who I later had as well, taught about the earth's age and formation back in Grade 5. I found various articles in my Messenger feed from my sister-in-law that were anti-mask, one on with a video link from anti-vaxx "scientist" Judy Mikovits, and when COVID vaccinations became available she had all the necessary information justifying why they should be avoided at all costs, with one justification being that if Bill Gates "is refusing to take it, what does that tell you?" Only later did I investigate Gates' position on getting jabbed and quickly found his Twitter post where he posted a picture of himself being jabbed, soon after they became available. To combat COVID at the time, in case they were to get it, my brother and sister-in-law were stocked with Bimectin (a trade name product that contains Ivermectin).

    My wife and I live 6 hours away, so it is not often that we are in each other's presence but words like "tRump," "RINO," "the Democrats' dangerous agenda" are sometimes featured in their vocabulary. During a visit after the 2020 election but before Joe Biden's inauguration, a pretty snide comment against our president-elect was heard. During a later visit with our nonagenarian mother, who before our father's decline to dementia always took her political cues from him, expressed surprise that I didn't realize that the U.S. presidential election was stolen from TFG. I have no doubt where that came from. This was the worst dose of reality about where my brother's/sister-in-law's political leanings sway at the time.

    That, however, was easily eclipsed last summer when a phone call was necessitated by something to do with our parents. It was then followed by a polite and friendly "How are things going otherwise?" exchange. This happened maybe a week after the Uvalde, TX, school shooting, which of course was not long after that mass shooting in Buffalo, so I expressed what our mood was like here in light of gun laws, lobbying and ineffective or non-existent legislation that follows on this side of the border. I flipped out when the response was that they do not believe that these shootings happen, because they are just part of an ongoing movement by the left to restrict gun ownership and for Democrats to push their agenda on the law-abiding public.

    Certainly, I can empathize with the deterioration of G.H. in Branchport's relationship with his MAGA sister-in-law and brother, as I am experiencing the exact same thing, right down to the exact same family members! However, my sister-in-law holds no Masters degrees in anything, not even a Bachelors to my knowledge, but practices alternatives to modern medicine, such as naturopathy and homeopathy, which she likes to push on others. You can guess how much credibility I extend to that given her other demonstrated gullibility.

  2. L.R.H. in Oakland, CA: You asked about politics and personal relationships on the day that The New York Times published two stories on the front page about this. The following are gift links:

    I'm grateful that my family very likely doesn't have any Trumpist Republicans and is made up almost entirely of liberals and farther-leftists. I would have to stop talking to anyone buying the election-denial lies and the hatred.

  3. R.G. in Seattle, WA: I have a one sibling, an older brother. As is the case with such relationships, for as long as I can remember, he was and still is a role model for me. I respect his intellect, his desire to research and read, and perhaps most of all his belief in a sense of duty to those around him. He is however, a white supremacist, a scientific quack, and what is often referred to as a "gun nut." So, as you can likely imagine, there are many things we don't see eye to eye on, and there are very specific things I very much do not admire him for. That said, I do try to listen to him and learn why he might expose the things he does (much like Z sent students to watch Fox) but there are things we simply do not discuss. Since we are both of advanced age, he shares with me things like how to file for SSA and medicare. (Funny how he likes that part of government and the blue team's defense of it; but his disdain for all things California is palpable, simply because of their "anti-gun culture.") Is this "harm?" Not in my view, since like many others, one takes and learns from others to the extent reasonable. All that said, should a family member espouse or actively participate in harming others with such views (beyond mere voting, something I specifically do not remind my brother to do) I would have to rethink how much I engage them. All that said, there are some things we just don't discuss; and stick to things we do (like how much we like certain malt beverages from Scotland).

  4. G.L. in Washington, DC: I'm kind of an early adopter to politics-based family estrangement. Back in the Tea Party days, my mom told me to never speak to her again after an argument over whether Michelle Obama had been disbarred for real estate fraud. (Spoiler: She hadn't.)

    For those who are just experiencing this now due to Trump, well, I don't have anything positive to say. My story does not get better. After the argument I decided it was more worthwhile to preserve the family than to be right, and it is one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I knew that her views were becoming more extreme due to the propaganda she was very eagerly consuming, but before that moment I assumed there was some element of play-acting and that deep down, she was capable of listening to facts or reason. Now, I can't un-know that she cares more about such an obvious lie because it hates the same people she does than she does about her son.

    She generally doesn't talk politics around me anymore, although there are things that are so embedded in her worldview that she doesn't seem to recognize them as such. (She's particularly fond of the "war on Christmas" and will regale anyone who will listen about conversations she's had with workers at stores she never remembers the names of about how they only have "Happy Holidays" cards because they're not allowed to buy or sell ones that say "Merry Christmas.")

    I don't have great advice for coping. The best is something I no longer remember the source of: View them as a toxic gas. Prepare yourself, limit exposure, and recognize that they're not (currently) capable of being different. Also, document things, I guess, because many people are exceptionally good at blocking out the evil things they do. Or perhaps it's intentional gaslighting, but in the couple of times that this incident has come up, my mother insisted that it never happened. (When I showed her the e-mail where it did happen, her explanation was that she was hacked, even though the paragraph included several fairly personal and specific insults as well.) So documentation won't help you win the argument, but it will remind you that you're not making things up.

    And fixing the problem on a societal level? Well, if anyone knew for certain, we'd do that. My suspicion is that we need to curtail the amount of right-wing propaganda packaged as news and constantly available for consumption. (I am extremely confident that my mother did not form her thoughts independently.) But that raises obvious First Amendment issues, and I have no idea how to do so effectively without legitimately threatening freedom. It would be wise to consider options, rather than declaring the problem unsolvable because of First Amendment absolutism.

  5. M.A.N. in Falls Church, VA: I was so confused reading the letter from G.H. in Branchport, because I thought I had written it.

    Yes, Trump has damaged familial relationships. In fact, it's been so bad in my own family that I've pretty much cut off all contact with my right-leaning relatives, which is most of them. For one thing, every time I make the effort to visit—and it's always me making the effort—I drive 23 hours total to Texas and almost as soon as I clear the threshold I start getting grilled by my brother's wife who is an alleged "born again Christian" but lives in fear of Sharia Law. In Texas! No, she never went to college but is a business owner. My brother, a gun nut... literally; a vaccine/science denier; and everything in between, as you can imagine, is no help. So, once our mother died and my dad's sister died, I've pretty much cut off all contact because I don't need that sort of weird toxicity in my life. Keep in mind that I never ever bring up politics. Not once. But when I show up, I have a target on my back and am attacked in some cases or in other cases, there are some unsubtle dog whistles bandied about and I just play dumb, which is surprisingly easy.

    Haven't seen my brother since January 2017. Can't remember the last time I talked to him other than an occasional text message. Honestly, I haven't felt like I've missed anything other than the stress of familial obligations. Now, my new Thanksgiving tradition is going to London and I'm much happier.

  6. D.K. in Chicago, IL: To lighten the mood, here is a humorous meme I saw a few years ago that speaks an eternal truth:

    It says 'Make sure to
bring up politics at Thanksgiving this month to save on Christmas gifts.'

Thanks, folks! We will run another half-dozen tomorrow. (V & Z)

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