Civility & Thanksgiving: Why you should leave politics off the menu

Robert B. Talisse in The Fulcrum:

Something strange is afoot when America turns to journalists for advice in surviving a holiday devoted nearly entirely to eating good food. Politics has rendered Thanksgiving something to be dreaded. Given the purpose of the holiday, this is tragic. Can anything be done to save Thanksgiving from our partisan divisions?

One strategy is to adopt the adage instructing us to avoid discussing politics over dinner. This rule is rooted in the observation that differences of political opinion quickly escalate into hostility. Better, then, that they be suppressed.

There is much to recommend this policy. Yet not everyone holds to the view that politeness outranks the business of democratic citizenship. Some relatives might feel strongly that democracy is a full-time endeavor and so the struggle for decent politics must override traditional manners. According to them, however valuable a congenial holiday might be, justice is a far more important goal.

If instituted strictly for the sake of ensuring peace, the “no politics over dinner” policy compels only those who see peace as especially valuable. When Thanksgiving also involves relatives who regard politics as more important than familial harmony, the policy amounts to unilateral disarmament. That typically means that your drunk uncle gets to hold forth unopposed. One might just as well cancel.

Thus, whatever its merits may be, the “no politics over dinner” policy requires backup from considerations weightier than the desirability of a placid holiday feast.

Such considerations are found in the ideal of democracy itself.

More here.