This column is my dry run for our family’s Thanksgiving conversations. My husband and I are hosting the Wisconsin-and-nearby clan this year, and I’ve pondered how we can keep family harmony in this politically disturbed year, so fraught with distress, angst, and strong opinions. After discovering that there will be no relevant football game to collectively coach from our post-prandial couches, I realized that politics will likely come up.
Start with the impeachment hearings polarizing the nation, and add to that gun control, the border wall, and, here in Wisconsin, the legislative leadership’s heavy-handed partisanship. We have a host of potential minefields.
I cannot pretend to be impartial on any of these. I am one of the large majority who has made up my mind on impeachment. The overwhelming evidence convinces me that President Donald Trump tried to use his position to impose conditions on Ukraine’s receipt of military aid, conditions that he hoped would redound to his own political benefit. He did so at the expense of orderly national foreign policy in a tense, volatile, and strategic part of the world. Evidence of his efforts to obstruct justice is public and mounting daily in his threats, insinuations and libels from his Twitter account. In the face of growing fascist tendencies, I see this moment in history as defining a person’s commitment to democracy and constitutional rule of law.
Obviously, these views risk polarizing discussions. My son thinks that disagreement will arise less around impeachment and more around which Democratic presidential candidate strikes the best balance between desirability and electability. There again, opinions run hot.
Our family isn’t alone with these dilemmas this year, it seems, and advice abounds about how to handle these conversations. Articles suggest strategies, such as not stereotyping, looking for deeper values in common, using “I statements,” being prepared to shift the conversation if things get testy, and other pretty obvious and sensible approaches.
But I have mixed feelings about these pundits’ advice. I appreciate that, rather than ban political conversations from the table entirely, they suggest ways to navigate them. On the other hand, many seem to approach these questions as if taming a caged tiger — simply coping to avert disaster. But what if we leaned into it? What if we recognized the importance to our nation of accepting the need to live with paradoxes, of considering views other than our own? From that point of view, Thanksgiving offers a superb opportunity to listen and understand each other.
In my case, I’m wondering whether I can represent my concerns without stereotyping the family member whose voting patterns differ the most from mine, or others who may not see this political moment in such stark terms as I. I hope to cultivate a conversation where we recognize each other’s views without angst trumping civility.
Sometimes well-chosen questions help guide such a conversation. For example, on any given hot topic, might it be fruitful to ask if anyone has stood out or surprised us with their heroism or moral courage, and if so, what distinguished them? What principles are most at issue for each of us? Why do these issues matter so much to us?
This may not be our family’s most tranquil Thanksgiving. But I’m hoping that we, who are so sure of our views, can slow down, listen, and explore what our nation is about.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. She is policy program director for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.
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