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Thanksgiving With a House Divided

— November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving, Legal Readers! If you’re reading this waiting for the turkey (or Tofurkey) to cook as you anticipate spending Thanksgiving with a politically diverse family, take heart. You’re not alone; right now a purple America is having that same awkward moment at family gatherings from Newport, Oregon, to Newport News, Virginia. After a bitter election season that seemed to have more mud flung further and more fervently than usual, and with a divisive and feared President-elect set to keep that rift open wide and bleeding profusely, now we sit with our nearest and dearest trying to muddle through an evening with people we love, wondering how they could have done what they did.

There are good reasons to try to reach out across the table, though, and I don’t just mean it because that’s where Aunt Lynn’s famous sweet potato casserole is sitting on a 70’s-era hand crocheted hot pad. A study by David Broockman at Stanford University and Joshua Kalla at the University of California Berkeley revealed that with patience and a willingness to listen, it was possible to nudge attitudes about (in this example) transgendered people. Canvassers researched by knocking on doors in South Florida and asking people to imagine how they would feel if they were transgendered, to try to understand what problems and dangers the Other would face as they went about their lives. Not only did the researchers discover that the exercise increased empathy immediately, but that it had a lasting effect resulting in support three months later for legislation that protected transgendered people from discrimination.

This is the intuitive logic behind Coming Out Day. According to the Human Rights Campaign, half of all Americans have someone close to them, such as a family member, friend, or coworker, who is gay. (One in ten Americans know a transgendered person.) It’s a lot easier to demonize a group you don’t know, a faceless Other, than it is to feel threatened by real people you already know and like. That’s why, every October, many GLBT+ people take the brave step of sharing that facet of their identity with a larger circle in their personal sphere of influence. Sharing Thanksgiving with your gay cousin means that you are likelier to support equality for other gay people. They have become Real.

Now that we are facing an administration stocked with White Nationalists and we’re seeing clear signals that keeping us divided and conquered is the game plan, I can think of no greater way to protest than to come together and refuse to be played. Many of us are afraid for our rights, for the lives of our friends, for our future as a free country. Patriotism calls all of us to step out of our comfort zones and try to expand our Monkeyspheres. This may be a lot to ask if the ideological gap between family members is so vast as to make sharing Thanksgiving with them an exercise in masochism, but there are many ways that we as Americans can try to come together again.

One way which may figure more prominently in the hard times ahead is to revive the tradition of community organizations that offer mutual support for their members. In some communities, the local churches serve as more than just a place to worship. They are also where the congregation mingles socially, networks for jobs, seeks out friendships and mates, asks for help when there’s a new baby or a layoff, and organizes politically. However, in an increasingly secular and mobile America, where can the non-religious go to fill these needs? This is a compelling reason to revive the idea of fraternal organizations, which served these functions in a more or less secular manner in the 19th century. According to author John Michael Greer, in 1900 there were more than two thousand fraternal orders that provided mutual support for their members, and roughly half of all Americans (including men and women from every ethnic group) belonged to at least one of them.

Another compelling idea is the re-imagination of our political parties. Besides maybe deciding which candidates you favor based upon their party affiliation, do you really have much of a connection with “your” political party? I know I don’t. Like fraternal orders, though, political parties used to be a much more hands-on affair, with partisans gathering regularly to hash out politics and drink beer. There’s no reason why a political party that is interested in winning future elections shouldn’t consider becoming a real force for good even when not getting out the immediate vote. Mike McCurry, a press secretary for Bill Clinton, suggested that Democrats should form a pool of volunteers that would be available to help their neighbors, so when there was work to be done, they’d remember that the Dems were the ones who showed up. Perhaps the Democrats would even consider a group insurance plan, if they have enough members who need access to health care.  Why not organize to take active care of each other and reach across to the people sure to be harmed or disappointed by the incoming administration? If we stand with them, perhaps when it counts, they will stand with us.

We can share Thanksgiving with the whole nation if we stand together.

And if all else fails, the turkey is indigestible, nobody wants to deal with politics, and there is no common ground to be found at our tables today, just pull out your phone and pass this video around. It’s cute, and maybe it will inspire folks to try to speak each others’ language.  And thank you for spending Thanksgiving with Legal Reader!

Kangaroo Tries Saying Sorry to Cat, posted by Storyful


Research says there are ways to reduce racial bias. Calling people racist isn’t one of them.
National Coming Out Day
White Nationalists Celebrate Trump’s Victory and Early Appointments
What is the Monkeysphere?
Politics: Rebuilding Civil Society
Donald Trump will be President. This is what we do next.
Saddened, Angry, Sickened, Defeated

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