Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and most people have something to be thankful about. It might be for getting a short work week, finding out that there is yet another extension on the student loan moratorium, or getting a cheat day on your diet.
But as many of us plan to get together with family and friends, in the back of our minds we wonder if there will be an argument or a fight over politics.
Why has Thanksgiving become divisive? Mainly it was due to Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential win in 2016. Soon after the election results, fresh with surprise, anger, and frustration, there were opinion pieces in well-known publications that advocated (and in some cases, even demanded) people be more vocal about political positions at the family gathering. They encouraged making family members feel uncomfortable, getting into heated arguments, and creating divisions. The rationale is to find out who is on their side. Those who don’t agree with them are their enemies and those who are silent are passively encouraging violence.
Social media is also to blame. Over the past few years and until very recently, platform algorithms and content moderators have made the writers of these divisive columns famous because they supposedly want to amplify the voices of the marginalized. So even though Trump is no longer in office and these inflammatory columns have died down somewhat, there are some who still think that those who disagree with them need to be called out in front of family and friends. They might be writing these pieces more for the purpose of clickbait.
Also, people are choosing to celebrate Friendsgiving where people celebrate with mostly friends and usually on a day other than Thanksgiving Thursday. The availability of this alternative could make some people less afraid of offending family members and risk being a pariah.
So can Thanksgiving be about giving thanks again? Absolutely. It should be noted that the above isn’t a problem for most families. They either don’t discuss politics at all or keep the discussion civil while keeping a safe distance from the carving knife.
People can start by thinking about how lucky they are for having friends and family. For some people, it may be the first year celebrating with others since 2020 due to government COVID-19 restrictions, they work in high-risk fields such as health care, or they had COVID-19 themselves. There will be disagreements, but they will be the first to have your back when you are in need. Will the angry columnist with a blue checkmark and 500,000 followers treat you the same way? Unless he or she knows you personally and very well, you are just one among 499,999 bot accounts and will be treated accordingly.
Second, political posturing is not going to change anyone’s heart and mind, at least not immediately. If that is your goal, you have to play the long game. If you want to talk activism, then keep it among your echo chamber and away from the main table.
Lastly, some people will have to go elsewhere or risk ruining the day for everyone else. They may be going through a phase in their lives or their family relationships are simply broken beyond repair. It will disappoint the family elders who simply want to see their children and grandchildren under one roof but that’s the reality. They can celebrate with extended family or with friends. Or they can celebrate virtually with their tribe on one of the many Twitter replacement platforms out there that serves virtual mastodon meat instead of turkey.
So for at least one day, let’s observe Thanksgiving by putting aside our differences and be grateful for the good things in our lives. You have the other days in the year to change people’s minds.
Steven Chung is a tax attorney in Los Angeles, California. He helps people with basic tax planning and resolve tax disputes. He is also sympathetic to people with large student loans. He can be reached via email at [email protected]. Or you can connect with him on Twitter (@stevenchung) and connect with him on LinkedIn.