Holiday Survival Guide for Hearthside Political Chats

The holidays bring great tidings of joy, family time and, of course, the dread of painful political discourse. The Sage Leopard too will be traversing the rivers and woods to gather ‘round the table and has no doubt that current events are on the menu.

Before you gnash your teeth in anticipation of a clash over whether the blue wave really occurred in the mid-terms, take a moment to reflect on the meaning of the holidays. The original Thanksgiving was a prayer of thanksgiving to God that the settlers were surviving and thriving in the New World. Wait, that whole narrative is rife with post-Columbus jingoism. OK, never mind.

If you are Christian, please share with me a moment to reflect on some of the lyrics of my favorite Christmas hymn, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which celebrates the birth of our Lord. “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”

Remember the spirit of those lines when you are in the throes of a raging argument with your crazy drunk uncle. What would Jesus do? He probably wouldn’t try to shout down your crazy drunk uncle. And neither should you. A suggestion: offer to refresh his drink.

During political debates around the holiday table, we tend to form teams. For example, during the Christmas of 2004, my Dad and I sat on one side of the dining room table, next to a crackling fire, while my brothers in law sat across from us. Dad and I maintained that Bush was reelected because voters did not want to change presidents after the invasion of Iraq. The brothers in law were equally firm that social conservatism, including opposition to gay marriage, carried the re-election of George W. Bush.

Nowadays, a great conversion has taken hold of our family. Instead of a cadre of Democrats with the rigor of a rugby team vs. a couple of country club Republicans, we are unified with a single, unwavering disdain of The Donald. There is little risk that a Trump supporter could slip into our midst. But, if a MAGA-hat wearing adherent got lost in a blizzard and followed the wrong star to our cabin in the woods, he or she would still be warmed and fed (even if upon seeing the red hat we were tempted to say there is no room at the inn). Once we were assured the guest was comfortable, we’d lay in with concerns about incompetence in dealing with North Korea, disrespect of the military by of all people the president, question the efficacy of trying to unilaterally go after Iran, disregard of the First Amendment protections for freedom of the press, not to mention issues with emoluments and poor management of illegal immigration. And condemn false allegations of election fraud, etc. You know the list goes on.

But then what? This is where we are as a society. The Trump backers are unmoved by any and all criticism. The critics’ concerns are continually mounting. (They are not mad about the election; they are mad about this president’s on-the-job performance, by the way.)

What if we all received a gift to share? It seems elusive, if not impossible now, but what if the gift was agreement on what constitutes the truth? How do we get to the truth?

I previously expressed concern in my communications company blog about whether the truth still matters and how that came up during an alumni weekend gathering. Another alumnus said he thought Trump won because he appealed to people who wanted to be heard. There is certainly truth in that observation.

If you want the world to receive that gift of universally accepted truth, you may have to give a little by listening to the uncle or guest with whom you disagree. Now, I didn’t say capitulate. Listen. Better yet, ask questions such as, why do you think that? How do you know that? How does that make you feel? Why? When did you first notice this? How did this happen? To what do you attribute this change? What does it mean?

These queries are not styled to sound like a therapist. They are the more like reporters’ questions. Oh, and all I want for Christmas is for the president to stop calling the press “the enemy of the people.” Maybe if I had a crazy uncle and he asked me the above questions in this regard, he might come to see why I have a certain opinion. And, maybe I could better understand him. Maybe we could gain each other’s perspectives. And maybe get close to agreeing on what is the truth.

Happy Holidays,

The Sage Leopard

P.S. I rather enjoyed writing this while listening to this Christmas music selection on YouTube.