The holidays are usually a time that brings people together, no matter their differences. But after the fierce polarization of the past election, story after story has outlined just how riven families and friends are over this year’s election results. Disinviting, unfriending, canceling trips, and other forms of social shunning have become commonplace because of the intensity of emotions over, dare we say it, a Trump presidency.
We get it. No one finds the outlook for the next four years bleaker than we do. After all, Trump really does seem like the seven deadly sins incarnate. He’s surrounded himself with a cadre of right-wingers led by Mike Pence calling the shots, leaving us on the brink of the kind of institutional homophobia that we thought we left behind in the ’90s.
So it’s okay to go ahead and surround yourself only with like-minded, progressive thinkers this holiday season, right?
As much as we all dread what we are facing, we shouldn’t forget the stunning progress we’ve made in a historically short period of time and, more importantly, how we made it. We made it by winning the hearts and minds of people around us. For years, polls have shown that knowing someone gay makes someone more likely to support gay rights. In the case of marriage equality, that means twice as likely.
Case in point: Sen. Rob Portman. Portman is a standard issue Republican who happens to have a gay son. That’s the reason why Portman broke ranks with the party and came out in favor of marriage equality. So instead of bickering with your Trumpian friends and relatives, listen to their concerns. And tell your own story, free of partisanship.
Hard as it is to believe at present, but politics isn’t everything. People are more than just their political party. And if we’re looking at people solely as representations of a party that they frankly are unlikely to pay close attention to, we’re not engaging them as people.
If anything, we should look to our own experience to see just how destructive it can be to judge people solely on the basis of one characteristic. How often have we heard someone condemn us solely because of our orientation? Or say that they could never be friends with someone gay? Those kind of comments deny our basic humanity. It’s not much better if you substitute “Republican” for “gay.”
Success depends on winning hearts and minds. Democrats and liberals have failed on this count with a key segment of the population. Condemning those people as racists or ignorant yahoos will not convince them that they are wrong. If anything, that approach is proven to cause them to dig in their heels.
None of this means we should invite the Pences over for a cup of eggnog during the holidays. Pence is a leader who is affirmatively making disastrous policy decisions that will hurt us. And it doesn’t mean we have to go caroling with the alt-right leadership, even if it includes at least one of our own. Some people truly are deplorable.
But that doesn’t that mean that every person who voted for the Trump-Pence ticket is just as bad. Most Americans are not ideologues. Bad decisions aren’t the same as bad people. What people hate about politics right now is the polarization that ensures nothing gets done. That’s why a lot of them voted for Trump. Extending that polarization to the holiday dinner table won’t change their minds.
As anyone who has ever been part of a family can tell you, you don’t have to agree with folks to treat them with respect and even affection. They may well respond in kind. If not, it says more about them than us. But if we are successful in the process, perhaps we can erode a little of the hatred and bitterness that can do neither us nor the country any good.