Having just finished one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history, lots of people are going to be “coming down with something” to avoid spending the holidays talking about politics and the coming administration.
Since we’ve done such a good job grouping ourselves into little echo chambers of support, for a lot of Americans the only time we’re locked in a room for three hours with people whose political views are really different than our own is around the holidays at family gatherings.
So how do we get through the holidays without someone storming out, brandishing a turkey leg, or having people challenge each other to snowballs at ten paces? It’s not going to be easy since almost everything we like to talk is just a heartbeat away from the election and family discord.
I’m just going to assume you want to see these people again. If you don’t, grab a bottle and get everyone started with a “how about that election,” or “how are they going to carve that hair into Mount Rushmore,” and from there I’m pretty sure you’ll be free from family obligations for the next twenty to thirty years.
So is there anything people with different political beliefs can talk about over a long dinner without getting mad at each other?
Normally the weather is a pretty safe topic and here in Minnesota, it’s what we talk about with strangers. Who we don’t talk to a lot, because we really took the whole stranger danger conversation to heart when we were little.
The problem with talking about the weather is as soon as someone says, “you know it’s a lot hotter/colder/wetter/drier than when I was growing up,” the conversation is going to slide down the climate change rabbit hole that’s as easy to climb out of as winning the Presidency without Florida. So don’t talk about the weather unless you want to spend the night hearing the words China, Paris, and hoax over, and over, and over again.
You could ask people about their work, but would you rather listen to someone explain why they supported Hillary or The Donald or spend forty-five minutes listening to stories about people you’ve never met stabbing each other in the back over things you could care less about?
Normally this would be a great time of year to talk about what movies people want to see, especially with new Harry Potter and Star Wars movies coming out. But then JK Rowling had to go and talk about how Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is really about the rise of populism and as much as everyone loves Star Wars, now might not be the right time to talk about how an old white man tried to take over the universe by building a tremendously huge hotel for storm troopers.
What about sports? Sports usually work pretty well for people who follow them and the Cubbies winning the world series was a great story. So it’s probably ok to talk about the Cubs winning the world series as long as you stay away from their Saturday Night Live appearance that will just lead everyone back to the Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin sketches, at which point it would be a good time to put the turkey legs under lock and key.
Depending on your family it might be ok to talk about the food. As long as people can avoid using the mashed potatoes as a jumping off point for who they’d like to mash or how the orange in the sweet potatoes is the same color as someone’s fake tan.
Talking about food can be fairly safe, but it’s hard to talk about the food you’re eating for three hours without talking about something else. Which is why the thing you absolutely need to avoid is silence, because as soon as the conversation stops, someone is going to jump in with whatever is on their mind and then it’s all over. Because if there’s one thing we are all universally bad at it’s keeping things to ourselves during awkward silences.
Normally, asking people if they’re planning a trip is a good way to get an interesting conversation started. Of course, with the Canadian immigration website crashing on election night and people planning trips to visit their favorite National Parks before the oil wells go in, you’re likely to hear a lot more about people’s fears than fun travel tips.
And don’t even think about asking after someone’s health unless you want to talk about Obamacare for twenty minutes.
So, is there anything out there everyone can agree on? The best I can come up with is that Prince passing away was horrible. You can include Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, and others, but there was a universality to Prince that drew people in. So it seems we’ve reached the point in American history that the only thing we can all agree on is that one of our greatest musicians dying is terrible. Yeah us!
At least with Prince, there’s a lot to talk about, like where you were when you heard the news, what your favorite songs were, and did you ever see him play live. And if you’ve got some jerk who keeps trying to turn the conversation back to the election or who should end up in the cabinet, pull out your phone and play this gem from his 2010 Super Bowl appearance that has the great line in it that when Prince was asked if he was ok playing in a torrential down pour he asked the NFL if they could make it rain harder.
So this holiday season you don’t have to pretend to be sick to avoid talking with people about the election, just steer the conversation away from the weather, jobs, travel, food, and politics and keep bringing it back to Prince and the Cubbies and you’ll be ok. Unless, of course, you're from Cleveland.