How To Talk To Trump Relatives Without Starting A Family War

When “making nice” isn’t an option

by Jennifer Wright

So, you’re going home for Thanksgiving to your family full of Trump voters.

First of all, ask yourself what kind of Trump voters they are. There’s a chance they are explicit racists who will proudly proclaim that they voted Trump because they hate women, minorities, and gay people.

If so, fuck them.

Those “different opinions” aren’t ones you need to indulge. That’s because they’re hate, not opinions. “I hate black coffee” is a different opinion. “I hate black people” is nonsense, racist drivel that isn’t worth your time. Different opinions will broaden your view of the world and make you bolder and more compassionate. Indulging racism will contract your view of the world and make you fearful and crueler.

So, if you come from a family of cheerful racists, allow me to congratulate you for not following in their footsteps. You may not be up to Thanksgiving this year. Or you may want to go home, but do not feel up to combatting their proudly proclaimed racism, sexism, and homophobia. That’s fine, too. You can love people even if they’re horrible. If that were not true, we would all have fewer exes. Go home, eat sweet potatoes, talk about Gilmore Girls and football, and go back to your real home.

But there’s a very good chance that you come from a family that is not openly racist or sexist or homophobic. In fact, you probably come from a family that might be very offended if you were to call them any of those terms. In that case, in voting for Trump, these people seemed to prioritize their finances or their party loyalty over rights for the country’s most vulnerable. If so, your challenge this Thanksgiving is to get them to care about some of the issues you’re concerned about. How can you get people to care?

Don’t Yell

It will be your first reaction to yell, “This country is appointing a cabinet of full-on racists, and our President-elect is on tape saying it’s cool to sexually assault women.” That is a sane reaction. Don’t do that. Assume they will have already heard a lot of media telling them those appointments and attitudes are acceptable. The only time Trump fans seem to feel it is appropriate to rage is if a diverse cast of actors begs a white man to represent all of them. So, whatever you do, remain calm during any discussions you are having. 

Do Not Try To Defend Hillary

Hillary was a beautiful angel we did not deserve. Now throw her under the bus. She’d want you to. There’s a chance your family voted not for Trump, but against her. Let your family talk about whatever they hated about her. Agree. (Yes, again, she was a beautiful angel. Still, agree.) Then talk about who your guy is for the next run. Do you love Tammy Duckworth? Cory Booker? Your local congressperson? Start talking about how those people would have been better candidates now so that your parents have already heard good things about them by the time the next election rolls around. Fox News, assuredly, won't say any good things about whoever is running, so get in early. 

Talk About What Trump Did To People They Like

They do not care if Trump was mean to Hillary or Obama. They do not like Hillary or Obama. Talk instead about how you think Trump was mean Ted Cruz’s wife. Or how he said that John McCain wasn’t a war hero. Talk about how those are things that really concern you. You may be able to find some common ground there.

Don’t Cry

Most healthy people are moved to sympathy when they see someone crying. So, it might seem curious that Trump voters do not appear to be. A lot of the Trump movement seems to focus on how being moved to compassion for others is weakness. They think that liberal voters crying is laughable. There’s a chance they might be sociopaths! But, if not, part of the problem could be that, in order for people to be moved by tears, they have to be able to sympathize with why you’re crying. These people voted for Trump, so they may not already be aware of what you’re afraid of. Make it clear—calmly—what you’re worried about. Maybe you’re worried that he’s made Steve Bannon, a man who was charged with choking his wife because she was making too much noise tending to their child, as an advisor. Maybe you’re worried about the fact that Mike Pence wanted to divert state funds toward conversion therapy. Or maybe you’re concerned about the fact that potential Attorney General Jeff Sessions was seen as too racist to serve as a judge. Say that these things concern you, and see how your family responds. You might be able to plant the seed that these are at least people to keep an eye on for the next four years.

Explain Fake News To Them

A lot of older people do not realize that much of what they read on the internet is not true. Try to illustrate where sources are just wrong with a fairly inoffensive and unambiguous example. For instance, show them this widely circulated picture of protests outside of the musical "Hamilton" where Mike Pence was booed.

Explain that it was actually from a rally weeks ago in Boston.

Note that we all have to be very careful about trusting anything we read online.

Get Them A Newspaper Subscription

This is the single most important thing I can suggest. As a follow-up to educating them about fake news, get them a newspaper subscription. Get it for a newspaper that you hate, but one they’ll actually read. The Wall Street Journal is good. If they like the short bursts of news they get online, consider USA Today or the New York Post. Just get them something that someone is fact checking and that feels some sense of journalistic responsibility to its readers. Anything is a step up from Don’t let them get their news from memes on their friends' Facebook walls. Besides, reading a newspaper over breakfast might appeal to their sense of nostalgia. 

Make It Seem Personal

Don’t talk about potential problems with the administration in the abstract. They may think that the policies Trump is thinking about implementing will not affect anyone they know. They will. Ask how their friend Lynn will do without Obamacare. Ask whether Marcia’s gay son is worried about Pence’s anti-LBGT stance. There is a chance they know a more diverse group of people than they think they do. Remember: No one is alone.