It was on Thanksgiving night last week that I got dragged into what many would call a taboo subject: political conversation with family and friends during the holidays. In this instance, my friend’s grandmother inquired about my major. After I told her it was politics, she commented on how it had been such an interesting year for it. I agreed tepidly; “interesting” probably had a very different meaning for both of us. We carefully measured each other’s next few responses, unsure of the other’s political orientation. Within moments, our conversation was cut short.
A relative of the family friend interjected bluntly, “You probably don’t want to talk politics, both of you really would disagree.” We all nervously laughed it off, and trailed off to something else.
While I do believe that my liberal upbringing would have clashed with my family friends’ more conservative background, I have been led to believe that what could have come out of a tumultuous conversation was less damaging than ignoring our differences. In fact, I worry that this lack of communication occurred frequently across dinner tables this Thanksgiving, a deeply concerning phenomenon that has the potential to further influence the already contentious political situation in the country.
The most immediate reaction to the new administration have been protests in the streets. While there is a time and place for them, a more effective approach must be realized for us to end the hyperpolarization that has plagued our country. Simply put, if we can figure out how to talk to those we disagree with in a respectful and civil fashion, it will undoubtedly achieve more in the long run.
This will not be easy. Politics in San Francisco is a thickly veiled blue bubble, and does not promote healthy discourse between conflicting political ideologies. The city acts as an intense echo chamber, where our own policies and theories are validated by others. Our views on the economy, religion or immigration policy are rarely challenged. If we do not make a concerted effort to reach out to those who do not share our views, we will remain unchallenged by and isolated from, conflicting opinions.
It is even more difficult this time since the other side of the political spectrum has revealed shades of xenophobia, antisemitism and other cases of bigotry. However, these darker beliefs should never prevent us from attempting to understand each other politically. While some support for President-elect Trump was racially motivated, this is not the case for everyone. In this particular election, if we can understand what would motivate someone to vote for President-elect Trump (and Clinton), we will be a step closer to mending the deep fractures within our country.
The most promising voice today comes from Van Jones, a CNN political commentator who has now devoted his career to figuring out how people can “aim for more constructive arguments” along political lines. In a three-part series, Jones ventured across the country days before the election to bring Trump and Clinton supporters into the same room.
Jones asked, “How did we get to the point when you disagree with someone, they become your enemy?” This is the point we have come to: labeling our very own neighbors and friends as enemies. It would be shortsighted, however, to carry on with this mentality. While our political views on the surface undoubtedly differ, I am certain my friend’s grandmother and I have the same aspirations: a secure future, opportunities to pursue our dreams and time to spend with family and friends. If we can both agree that we share these goals, our country will heal.