The Political Discussion

As has been noted, I don’t share my political opinions on this blog. I have them, but they aren’t relevant to Old Money, which is a culture that transcends political ideology. Nevertheless, I think some guidelines are in order as we approach the holidays.

It’s the time of year that often offers us an opportunity to reunite and reconnect with family and friends we may only see once or twice a year. We’ll dive into conversations to catch up on 11 months of life over one meal. We’ll run into old friends we haven’t seen in twenty years and it will feel like we haven’t been apart twenty minutes. We’ll see how much children grow in short periods of time, and how well friendships endure over decades. The opportunities for joy and laughter are numerous.

So are the chances that the subject of politics may rear its tricky head at a family or social gathering. This isn’t a problem if your entire clan is rock-solid conservatives or fire-brand liberals, but even then, are those conservatives also Trump supporters? And did those liberals support Hillary? Or Bernie?  Things used to be so simple, but alas…

We live in a highly politicized environment. Long-standing relationships can end over political disagreements. We all know this. Here are a few things we can do to minimize the impact politics has on our holidays…

First, know that you’re not going to change anyone’s mind by arguing. Political opinion is shaped by numerous factors: family background, education level, income level, work, travel, experience, and even, according to some researchers, the population density of the area we live in. (Liberals, they say, tend to live in more crowded areas; conservatives in less crowded areas. I don’t know…)

It’s best to let life change people’s minds. A Republican friend of mine who once screamed bloody murder at the notion of ‘socialized medicine’ recently learned that her less0-affluent cousin had died. The disease that caused her cousin’s death was easily treatable. The protocol, routine. Her cousin simply didn’t have the money to drive from her rural home into the big city hospital where the doctors and facilities were located. She also didn’t have the money for the treatment. She didn’t have healthcare coverage because she couldn’t afford the premiums, despite the fact that she worked full time. Most heartbreaking to my friend was the fact that a member of her family didn’t feel like she could pick up the phone, call, and ask for help.

My Republican friend is not now, nor will she ever be, politically liberal. But this experience has left her less dogmatic about her political positions in some regards. So don’t argue. Let life play out. Intelligent people, and even your relatives, will have opportunities to change their minds. Life will also deal you some insights and experiences that will challenge your certainty, your cherished and long-held political beliefs. Allow new information and new perspectives to wedge their way between the brittle wooden planks of your dogma. This will allow light to shine into dark corners. This illumination often dawns into wisdom.

Second, there are usually 3 sides to every story. There’s your side, your idiot uncle’s side, and a much more nuanced, complicated, and contradictory side that is more truth than either of the two sides. If you’re simply parroting what you’ve heard on talk radio and cable television news, you’re probably not as informed as you could or should be. The resulting sermons delivered from on high at family dinner tables and cocktail parties around the country are transparent, tedious, and boring. Especially to people who really know what’s going on in the world, like me. (Wink, nod.)

Third, there are some things that should transcend politics. Friends and family are two of them. Community should nudge in and be a third. We embrace all of these around the holidays. So let’s do so without reservation, sabotage, condemnation, or division.

Readers of a certain age will remember Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, two of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars of the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s. They were roommates early in their careers, sharing a house in Los Angeles before they each hit it big. In an industry notorious for its fickleness, they remained life-long friends. Jimmy Stewart was a supporter of conservative candidates and causes. His son was killed in battle in Vietnam. Henry Fonda was a dedicated and vocal liberal whose daughter, Jane, visited Hanoi during the war, and smiled for the cameras that followed her.

A reporter once asked Fonda how he and Stewart reconciled their very different political views. In his customarily curt style, he replied, “We don’t talk about it.”

This attitude takes no small amount of discipline, but it shows an enormous amount of respect for your friends and your family. They’re entitled to their opinions. You’re entitled to yours. The focus should be on what we all have in common, and the awareness of how little time we have, and how precious these holiday moments can be.

This holiday season, don’t talk about it. Transcend.

  • BGT





10 thoughts on “The Political Discussion

  1. Growing up we were taught there were four topics you only discuss with immediate family: money, sex, religion and politics. Occasional exceptions were made for politics and religion when talking with select close friends. As for grandparents, only if they broached the subject, which they would never do except during personal one-on-one discussions.

  2. Another wonderful post Byron. It’s a shame there aren’t more Stewart/Fonda type friendships; perhaps it’s impossible in today’s climate. I personally have strong political views but have never had any ill thoughts towards people at the opposite end of the spectrum. I’ve always thought it’s odd that politics can ruin friendships and, apparently, even marriages. I realize that I’m a little unusual in regards to this though and sadly I think you’re correct that it’s best to avoid the topic all together.

    I’m not sure if Thanksgiving is celebrated in Paris, but I assume a Yankee such as yourself will be celebrating it. If that’s the case then I hope you have a happy holiday and I look forward to reading more posts on European high society in the future.

    1. Thank you, Tyler. It’s been a great ‘Thanksgiving’ weekend here, with the most amusing part of it being the ‘Black Friday’ slogans that local retailers are now using, even though the Parisians have no idea what it means. Turkeys are in short supply, and it leaves one searching for a very large duck to roast. C’est la vie! – BGT

  3. In my family all we talk about is politics. There are disagreements as well as open minded discussions. This of course is my immediate family. Don’t be surprised by ANYTHING from non-immediate family.

    I recently was in contact with a historian about my great uncles time in WWII. He died at 19 fighting the Nazis in 1945 just weeks before Hitler killed himself. The historian lead me to someone who had a captured swastika flag with my uncle’s plattoon’s name written all over it. My uncle’s name was written with 46 other names on it less than a week before he was shot. I contacted the owner of the flag and was sent pictures of it confirming the historians account.
    After showing the image to nonfamily members you wouldn’t believe how “off putting” the image of a signed urinated on swastika flag was for people. My mind can’t see anything wrong with sharing this important piece of history, but some were actually offended. I was embarrassed. Maybe they are closet racists, maybe they don’t care for serious discussion, maybe they were jealous of my family’s accomplishments. I can’t say, but I was rereminded about how you just can’t get political at all with people anymore.

    1. Thank you for sharing that story, Dario. I’m with you: it’s a great piece of family history, and probably the best use of a Nazi flag that doesn’t involve gasoline and a cigarette lighter. Your family seems to have lively, healthy sense of debate. Good for you. – BGT

  4. I agree with Janet on this one. In the overly politicized world we now live in where every conversation is a potential landmine, it is best to keep conversation pleasant and leave the serious discussions for your closest associates.

  5. A saying comes to mind here.Dont ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer!Many people engage in political debates and they are enraged at the answers they receive.If you are hyper sensitive about various topics don’t ask about them!

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