What to Do When Thanksgiving Gets Political

Choose your own political Thanksgiving drama.

Illustration by Stephanie Davidson for Bloomberg Politics/Photograph by Getty Images

For some, Thanksgiving is about being thankful for all of life’s blessings, big and small. For others it’s a dare, challenging you to get through hours worth of vitriolic political debate, when the most liberal and the most conservative factions of your family come together to discuss topical controversies. 

What do you do when Cousin Natasha*, a liberal who donates $5 every time she gets despondent email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says she thinks Obama’s U.S.-China climate change deal is one of the most important achievements of his presidency?

Or when your Uncle Doyle*, who sent everyone in the family, including Cousin Natasha, a “What Difference Does it Make?” Benghazi shirt for Christmas last year, praises Speaker John Boehner’s Obamacare lawsuit?

These are the sort of scenarios that tie knots in the stuffing-bloated stomachs of Americans across the country, and so we’ve put together this choose-your-own-adventure guide to help you, the moderate of the family, practice going through the prospective dinner table topics ahead of time. 

(*The most liberal and conservatives names in America.)

Ferguson

When your family inevitably discusses the grand jury’s decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown, tensions will likely run high. Was your first thought Tuesday morning, like Cousin Natasha's, to wonder why on earth the grand jury didn’t indict Wilson when there was so much contradictory evidence to go through, or to worry about the state of the businesses that had been burned and looted by protesters, like Uncle Doyle? 

If someone does bring it up, should you A) stay out of it or B) try to change the subject?

Demilitarization is one of the few things Natasha and Rand Paul agree on.
Demilitarization is one of the few things Natasha and Rand Paul agree on.
Photograph By: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Option A: Maybe your relatives will have a civilized discussion about race relations in America and agree that, whether or not they approve of the grand jury ruling, the law is the law. And while everyone agrees that the looting and destruction was regrettable, maybe they also understand the deep betrayal felt by a community that simply wanted a trial. Maybe, but do you want to take that risk? 

Option B: “I thought Rand Paul’s essay about demilitarizing the police was interesting,” you say, hoping that at least everyone can agree that small town police forces don’t need giant tanks. 

The Midterms

Last year, your family was discussing how the government shutdown was going to hurt Republicans' chances in the midterm elections. Turns out it was President Barack Obama’s job approval rating that brought down candidates and helped Republicans win major gains at the House, Senate, governor and state-legislature levels. Uncle Doyle came ready to brag.

Do you A) Let him talk—he earned it—or B) change the subject to something else before Cousin Natasha loses it?

Your uncle when Joni Ernst won.
Your uncle when Joni Ernst won.
Photograph By: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Option A: After about 10 minutes praising Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton and Cory Gardner, Uncle Doyle moves on to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who he’d like to see run for president in 2016. “But really, anyone but Hillary Clinton,” he mutters. Natasha, who, if she's being honest with her inner progressive, would prefer to see a Warren-Sanders ticket, launches into a spirited defense of Clinton out of obligation. 

Option B: “Funny how everyone stopped talking about Ebola after the midterms. Does anyone know the status of the outbreak in West Africa?” Also funny: how quiet everyone just got.

Immigration

Last year your family made progress on Thanksgiving. Uncle Doyle promised to say “undocumented immigrants” and Cousin Natasha promised to stop calling him xenophobic every time he mentioned securing the border. Both agreed that Congress should pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, even if they were iffy on the details.

Fast forward to this year, and Uncle Doyle thinks Obama is acting like an out-of-control emperor and Cousin Natasha's only complaint is that the president's executive action doesn't include health care. Uncle Doyle mentions that he saw an interesting cartoon that reminds him of the immigration order and Thanksgiving, and he pulls out his phone to show everyone.

Do you A) knock the phone out of his hand because he’s about to show everyone this:

https://twitter.com/vouchey/status/536234866162282496

Or B) hope for the best?

Option A: Good job. Now the only person who won’t be invited back to Thanksgiving next year is you. 

Option B: Turns out this is the cartoon your uncle wanted to show everyone:

https://twitter.com/binarybits/status/536528922989846528

Climate Change and Keystone

Cousin Natasha is happy with the U.S.-China climate change deal, but worries that it won’t be enough to keep the planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius, especially if a Republican president wipes out Obama’s climate action orders.

Still, there are reasons to be optimistic. She mentions that she’s happy Keystone failed, and goes into why environmentalists are against the pipeline: It could leak, it would increase carbon pollution, etc. 

Do you A) Let Cousin Natasha continue what might be a long rant about carbon emissions or B) try to change the subject?

Every year Natasha tells the same joke: “‘XL’ stands for ‘extra lame.’”
Every year Natasha tells the same joke: “‘XL’ stands for ‘extra lame.’”
Photograph By: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Option A: Eventually Cousin Natasha and Uncle Doyle will agree that, regardless of their stances on climate change and America’s dependence on fossil fuels, Senator Mary Landrieu’s hail-Mary attempt to get Keystone passed to bolster her re-election campaign was a huge waste of time.

Option B: You try to change the subject to how great Uncle Doyle's cranberry sauce is. Cousin Natasha, who is still crushed that Oregon’s GMO labeling measure lost by just 809 votes, asks if it’s GMO-free. It’s not. 

Benghazi

For two years, Benghazi has taken up a long portion of your dinner discussion, with Uncle Doyle reciting the names of the four Americans killed during grace, and praying that one day the Lord will see fit to force Clinton to finally tell the truth about what happened.

This year, as Cousin Natasha is quick to point out, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee released a report debunking most of the major theories on the attack—there was no stand-down order, there was no failure of intelligence leading up to the attack, and the administration’s initial explanation for the attacks—an anti-Muslim video—was based on incorrect intelligence from the CIA, not Obama's lies. 

Uncle Doyle, who also read the report, points out that it also calls for investigations into whether the Clinton State Department failed to approve several requests for additional security.

To your horror, Cousin Natasha and Uncle Doyle turn to you and ask your opinion: Do you think Benghazi is and continues to be a fake conspiracy imagined into existence by the Tea Party or a real scandal covered up by liberals more concerned with protecting Clinton than American lives?

Do you A) change the subject or B) change the subject?

"Asked and answered!" — Cousin Natasha
"Asked and answered!" — Cousin Natasha
Photograph By: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Option A: Think of something topical, well-known, and indisputable. “Assuming they're true, aren’t all the Bill Cosby allegations horrible?” Uh, yeah.

Option B: You blurt out of the first thing that comes to mind. “Did you guys hear about what happened to Racket Teen?”

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