The Thanksgiving Showdown: Stop Worrying About “Winning” Arguments

November is here, and in its wake arrives the barrage of Thanksgiving-themed prepper articles for how to deal with familial tensions that arise from the annual proximity of individuals with perspectives spanning generations.

 

In other words, it is time for your epic showdown with your gun-loving, Kaepernick-hating Aunt Marsha.

 

The Internet has no shortage of articles to prepare you for this brewing confrontation.  Huffington Post, ever in-tune with their young liberal audience, offers 5 ways to discuss politics with the presumably Republican elder statesmen of your family. The LA Times has ways to counter your crazy uncle when he starts spouting off about Benghazi. Not to be left out, RedState knows what to do if your purple-haired college-educated niece starts pushing her damned liberal agenda instead of passing the sweet potatoes. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of articles in this genre. The sheer volume speaks to a desire for this content, and that desire speaks to a deep-seated fear of confrontation in an arena that has apparently become akin to the Roman coliseum. A convincing explanation for the volatility of these confrontations is that two forces, separated by a vast distance and hurtling toward each other to meet in battle, are likely to result in a devastating concussive force.

 

Despite the admonitions of cynical Third Way democrats or relevance-desperate libertarians, this is a country starkly divided. Middle ground or any semblance of it is utterly nonexistent, if indeed it ever truly existed (in any sense other than nominal) at all. One only needs to look at the last presidential election for a concrete example of this ideological divide. If you are, however, still in need of proof (seriously?) go ahead and take a peek at the race currently underway in Alabama. What you’re seeing is a Republican senate candidate, Roy Moore, refusing to drop out of the race based on the cynical notion that voters will ignore sexual misconduct allegations in favor of party loyalty. From a strategic standpoint, he is quite right. President Donald Trump has had levied against him no less than 16 sexual misconduct allegations. He was caught on tape proposing sexual assault. He is currently watching Fox & Friends in the same office where Abraham Lincoln penned the Gettysburg Address. Roy Moore, as a supposedly God-fearing Christian man, could very well win a race to become a United States Senator just weeks after evidence has surfaced that he habitually made sexual advances to young girls as old as 14. Tribalism, then, would appear to trump moral convictions.

 

On the other end, young people seem poised to force the Democratic party to engage more sincerely with far left rather than neoliberal goals. If this takeover indeed takes place, Democrats might be forced to adopt policies more akin to those it espoused in 1920 before the party turned over the reigns to corporate-friendly technocrats circa-the Bill Clinton 1990s. “Socialist,” once a slur evoking the USSR boogeyman, now is worn as a badge of honor by some politicians. Bernie Sanders, a virtual unknown before his run in the 2016 democratic primary against Hillary Clinton, garnered over 12 million votes – all while proudly declaring himself a Democratic Socialist. The Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that consisted of roughly 8,000 members before the candidacy of Sanders and election of Donald Trump, now boasts a membership pushing 31,000. Jeremy Corbyn, a self-avowed socialist, raised eyebrows the world over when his Labour party sabotaged a Conservative majority in Parliament after a snap election and saddled the Tories and Theresa May with an embarrassing result in what they believed would be a landslide victory. This surge for Labour appears backed by youth enthusiasm for genuine leftist policy. These leftist victories coincide with the ideological orientation of millennials who’ve seen Wall Street-lead economic collapses and the disastrous consequences of military adventurism. Young people in the West are becoming increasingly wary of capitalism, and increasingly keen on socialism. Some polls show respondents ages 18-29 reject capitalism, while over a third of respondents in that same demographic outright support socialism.

 

With a nation seeing the youth drift further left, and the Fox News grandpas drifting further right, the ideological rift between generations has never been greater. What then, is a hip young liberal (or actual leftist) to do when Aunt Martha pauses, turkey-laden fork halfway to her mouth and says, “You know what I’m sick of -” …..?

 

Nothing. Perhaps speak up where or when you feel morally obligated to do so, but otherwise just leave it be. What do you hope to gain by debating a paranoid 60 year old who thinks Antifa is going to behead her based on a Facebook meme? Do you think the charts you read on Vox.com are going to convince her about gun reform when she thinks former President Barack Obama is a Kenyan Marxist devoted to taking the little pink S&W Governor she keeps under her pillow? What is your endgame in engaging in this type of discourse? If you hope to change a reactionaries mind, a mind that’s grown fat from a steady diet of paranoid rhetoric barked out of a box or splashed across a computer screen, well…. good luck. Academic evidence points to this being a futile, perhaps even counterproductive endeavor. Research conducted by Nyan and Riefler in 2006 support what they coined “The Backfire Effect”: when confronted with hard evidence that contradicted their preconceived notions or beliefs, respondents not only rejected the new evidence, but often doubled down on those refuted beliefs. Now if only we had a relevant example of this happening in the far right political sphere…. What’s that? 23% of Republicans still believe that Barack Obama was definitely born outside of the United States even after he released his birth certificate to the general public? You don’t say…

 

So knowing there’s very little chance you’re going to change the mind of a family member whose politics are thoroughly reactionary, you must have some other reason for brushing up on strategy for turkey day discourse. Here, I think we arrive at the real reason for the plethora of articles outlining tactics for engaging with those on the other side of the political spectrum: people want to win a war of words. At the heart of many of those who desperately wish to be viewed as “policy wonks” or “political junkies” is an overpowering desire to be seen as educated and somehow superior to their less enlightened peers. Is it any wonder those occupying space on the right wing respond to such liberals with disdain when these supposedly morally righteous individuals seek to dominate in verbal sparring rather than actually helping the downtrodden? If your politics is oriented around the uplifting of those your ideological enemies have no time for or actively wish to punish, you don’t care whether you seem smart in front of your relatives. Your aim is not to make your ignorant uncle look foolish as you brandish statistics and perfect your rhetorical flourishes. Abandon this politics-as-debate-team fantasy, where a pithy one-liner and the quoting of esoteric facts serves anything other than the boosting of your ego.

 

Politics is a battle for who gets what resources. Its consequences are carved into the flesh of the most vulnerable. The reason for a growing ideological divide in America is because the cards are now on the table. A reality TV star is President because he questioned the birthplace of our first black President. Income inequality soars and legislation is being pushed through that offers tax cuts for private jet owners. Jobs that have wages high enough to support a family are increasingly scarce. Big Pharma-sponsored drug use ravages a destitute Appalachia that has been left behind as its resources dry up or are rendered obsolete. All the while, the world itself is drying up too (literally). The fight over resources will only get worse, more explicit, more out in the open. You can selfishly fight tooth and nail to be one of the privileged few who has access to the resources, your avarice codified and legitimated by reactionary policy, or you can fight for an egalitarian distribution of resources based on the notion that the many don’t have to shrivel up and die just so a few can live in comfort.

 

If one of your primary concerns is making your grandfather feel stupid as you sit at a table sagging with enough food to sink a ship – while a U.S.-backed Saudi blockade imposes famine on Yemen, contributing to a death toll that very well might reach the millions –

 

reevaluate your fucking motives.

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