How to Discuss Politics During the Holiday Season

Zhen Tu, Features writer

After arguably one of the most controversial election in United States history, the nation is more divided along party lines than ever. While some people are elated with the result, others are deeply disappointed. Sometimes, it seems nearly impossible for two people with opposing viewpoints to get past their resentments and discuss their thoughts openly and peacefully. Holiday gatherings are often filled with disagreements over politics. Nevertheless, according to psychology experts, this particular election could aggravate normal family quarrels, especially among relatives who are meeting during Thanksgiving for the first time since Donald Trump was elected president.

Is the best option really to avoid discussing politics at all for the whole night? Mark Reinecke, chief psychologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, believes that a Thanksgiving gathering is an opportunity for a person to learn about a different political ideology from someone they are close to. Reinecke advises those who are willing to put themselves amidst the political talk refrain from personal attacks, be respectful, and never forget the value of family.

Matt Motyl, professor of psychology and political science at University of Illinois-Chicago, emphasizes the importance of taking on tough issues with family members. He expresses his sentiments: “If we don’t have these conversations, there’s no way to understand the other side.” Indeed, it is helpful to hear opposing views from family members because they will be honest with you and you might begin to question the convictions you have been harboring. Putting yourself into those discussions will make you confront prejudices, leading you to open your mind and gain new perspectives.

Claudia Pitts, clinical psychologist and professor at National Louis University, gives some further suggestions on how to get through the day. She says, “These are relationships that I hope outlast a presidency. Remind yourself that even though you disagree with these people, these are your people.” When a polarizing comment is uttered, Pitts advises people to diffuse the tension by finding common ground, changing the subject away from politics, and then perhaps directly appealing to everyone to shy away from politics for the remainder of the evening. Furthermore, she recommends lessening alcohol consumption and employing humor to lighten the mood when conservations seem to be getting out of control.

What psychologists don’t recommend is completely rejecting a family gathering. Cutting family ties is unnecessary and can cause lasting damage. After all, the upcoming holidays are all supposed to be celebrations of family. It is important to remember that you will forever love your family, no matter who they voted for or where their political loyalties lie.