How to win Thanksgiving: Your guide to arguing with relatives

It's going to be especially hard to avoid politics at Thanksgiving this year. Here's how you can defeat Uncle Dingo

Published November 27, 2014 12:00PM (EST)

       (<a href=''>kyoshino</a> via <a href=''>iStock</a>/Salon)
(kyoshino via iStock/Salon)

This is the big one, the main event. You've been practicing for it all year. Those barbecues you had with a smattering of family members on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day -- mere skirmishes, exhibition games. This is Final Jeopardy, Wrestlemania. Think of various other dumb metaphors. They all apply.

Today many of you will gather with most of your extended family to eat traditional foodstuffs on the national holiday now known commercially as "Black Friday Eve." Unless you are from some sort of ideological bubble, there will be a contingent of right-wingers among this number. The specter of Uncle Dingo looms large in your mind as you prepare.

Previously the National Football League has served as a the go-to well of small-talk distractions from politics on Thanksgiving. You can make small-talk all day about the Lions and Cowboys losing football games. They always lose football games on Thanksgiving, isn't that funny, let's talk about that all day and not politics! But now the Lions and the Cowboys are both pretty good, and football itself is vulnerable to tiresome avuncular commentary about how the Dem'crat Party has politicized the game and regulated it into an unrecognizable "girl's sport."

There are two ways to go about managing political conversations on Thanksgiving.

The first is just to nod along and pretend to agree, because who gives a shit? It's just politics. This can even be fun. You get to be a right-winger for a day; unleashing your id to run free for a spell can be refreshing.

The second, considerably less fun option is to engage in protracted arguments that will go nowhere but will cause uncomfortable rifts at what can and should be pleasant family gatherings. It may be unavoidable this year, though, because Thanksgiving is aligning perfectly with the emergence of a certain passionate political issue, a belief in certain circles that...


What your right-wing relative is referring to here is President Obama's recent executive action to defer deportations for up to 4 or 5 million undocumented immigrants. Ask one or two follow-ups about this position and your relative's supposed reason for rage -- separation of powers -- will disappear and reveal unfortunate language about Obama "trying to change the culture" into something "un-American."

What is there to say? Avoid the condescending rhetoric about how "America's strength is in how it welcomes a diversity of cultures." This is fluffy feel-good talk and not even really true; America has a long history of beating the shit out of each new wave of immigrants for decades until they just get tired of it (or don't). We may be a nation of immigrants, but we have never been a nation friendly to immigrants, which is hypocritical but so is the human condition.

Instead, just point out that the Constitution remains intact and that hundreds of legal experts of all stripes have deemed Obama's executive actions legal. Obama's executive action had to be narrowly tailored to fit within the law; it does not grant permanent residence or a path to citizenship for unlawful residents of the country, and can be swept away by the next president. His executive action does not ban Congress from passing its own comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would address all components of the immigration system -- border security, visas, what to do with undocumented immigrants, etc.

That doesn't mean that you have to like it if you don't agree with it. The best way to resolve that would be to elect a presidential candidate in two years who vows to undo it.

But the Republicans just won a sweeping victory in the midterms; how can Obama just reject that and do whatever he wants?

Okay, fair, and if this has negative political consequences for Obama and the Democrats, then they'll have to live with that. But just like Republicans won a bunch of two- and six-year terms in Congress on Nov. 4, 2014, President Obama won a four-year term as president on Nov. 6, 2012. This means he still gets to be president for the next two years and use the powers of the presidency to accomplish his goals. Obviously you're allowed to be upset with this, but that doesn't mean that Obama is required to spend his last two years playing solitaire at Camp David until his time runs out.

We just had this grand uprising of populism and heartland values and getting America back to work on Election Day. What sort of middle-class economic stuff are they going to work on together in Washington?

Trade deals and cutting corporate taxes, lol.

Well, what about this thing, Ferguson. The liberal media got everyone there all worked up and so then there were riots. When will the media apologize?

The media is notoriously terrible, true, but the media did not cause riots in Ferguson. What you saw were largely protests, and the more likely cause was how a white police officer on a mostly white police force in a mostly black city murdered a black teenager and won't even have to go to trial over it.

So the next one, 2016. It's gonna be goddamn Hillary isn't it.

Pretty much. At least for the Democratic nomination. The general election, though? It's hard to tell. Sure, Hillary is a big name, will have plenty of money, and the Democrats have a structural advantage in the electoral college. But President Obama is not very popular, and it's hard for any party to win three straight presidential elections. The "Obama coalition" of white liberals, young voters and racial minorities might not show up in quite the same numbers for Hillary Clinton, either, and it's not clear if she'd be able to return enough white working-class voters to the party to make up the gap. And what sort of economic ideas would she even run on, anyway?

The Democratic party is sort of out of ideas since it refuses to consider non-market solutions to structural economic problems! Not that I support those, because I am a ludicrous right-wing stock character imagined by a writer.

You're right, the Democratic Party is at a loss for new, broad-based economic ideas, and that's why it needs  to pursue #FULLCOMMUNISM.

That's insane! I hate but maybe I love it? Let's go smoke meth with grandma in the attic.

Great, I'll grab the kids.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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