This Thanksgiving (and Christmas) don't be Molly Jong-Fast

This blew up today into a real sh*tshow so before I get to the point of all this, let me explain the backstory.

As you’re probably aware, nearly every Thanksgiving it seems some progressive news site publishes a dumb piece about how to talk to your conservative relatives over Christmas. These pieces are inevitably smug and insulting and assume that the average conservative is a QAnon fan or a devoted listener to Alex Jones.


This year, the Atlantic published two competing pieces as part of a newsletter. Tom Nichols wrote one titled “The No-Drama Thanksgiving” which manages to be smug and insulting while also making a fundamentally good point about gratitude not being really compatible with a harangue about the reconciliation bill or whatever political issue has captivated some member of the family.

On Thanksgiving, resolve for a day not to engage with anything as temporary as the freakish politics of our current age. This is especially difficult, as Irvine warns us, when “the world is full of politicians who tell us that if we are not happy it isn’t our fault,” and that “our unhappiness is caused by something the government did to us or is failing to do for us.”

Let that go. Instead of trying to straighten out your uncle about rigged voting machines, be cheerful and ask Uncle Ragey if he’d like more pie. Rather than arguing with your insufferable cousin who’s home from college about why Thanksgiving is a racist and genocidal festival, ask Cousin Akshully to help with the dishes and then tell her a story about her family or ask her what dorm food is like these days.

Nichols at least has the decency to suggest that people on both sides of the aisle can be insufferable. Which brings us to the alternative piece by Molly Jong-Fast which recommends progressives take every opportunity to educate their benighted conservative uncles at family gatherings. Her piece is titled, “Deprogram your relatives this Thanksgiving” and as you might have guessed, she assumes from the outset that all of the people in need of deprogramming are on the right.


You might be the only person your uncle talks to all year who could explain to him that the Cyber Ninjas themselves found zero evidence of voter fraud. You might be the only person in the world who can sit down with your anti-vax cousin and explain to her that the vaccine won’t make her infertile and that Alex Berenson is a fraud

Maybe it won’t work. Maybe you’ll leave Thanksgiving dinner as divided as you were when you sat down at the table five hours and 4,000 calories ago. Or maybe you’ll plant the seed, sow just a little doubt about whatever Tucker Carlson is saying now. Maybe you’ll even change a heart or a mind. Maybe you’ll bring the temperature down just a tiny bit. Or maybe you’ll need to report a relative to the FBI! Either way, it’s something to do besides just eat.

That last line about calling the FBI on your relatives was supposed to be a joke but lots of people didn’t find it funny.

She repeated this a lot of times:


She also complained she was getting death threats. No matter how obnoxious someone is death threats are never justified. Anyone who goes there is just demonstrating they’re incapable of making a point beyond FU!

So, okay, I believe this particular line was meant to be a joke and I don’t want to add to the pile on about that. At the same time, her general argument still stands, i.e. use every moment with your family to try to “deprogram” them from whatever they are getting from Fox News. Coming after a week where multiple mainstream news outlets reported that Jacob Blake was murdered by police and Kyle Rittenhouse crossed state lines and shot three black people, I find this pretty amusing. I wonder how many of my liberal relatives believe these things. How many believe the Steele dossier was shown to be reliable or that Al Gore won in 2000 and that Stacey Abrams was cheated out of the governorship in Georgia.

I could go on and on but the point is Molly Jong-Fast (FBI joke aside) doesn’t even seem to grasp that deprogramming can cut both ways. And I think that’s a problem because, of course, if you assume you enter any room with all the answers and the people around you are all clueless rubes, you’re probably more eager to start an argument during Thanksgiving dinner. If on the other hand you assume that people have different views, some of which are bad and some of which are strange but that you yourself are not above this, then you might be a little more respectful when you launch into a political discussion with people you only talk to once a year.


But that kind of nuance doesn’t interest Molly Jong-Fast. In her most recent piece for the Atlantic which was not meant to be a joke, she argued that President Biden’s sliding poll numbers meant he needed to find “an enemy” to help revive his fortunes. One guess who that enemy should be. That’s right, your Republican uncle:

To improve Biden’s popularity, earnest consultants might tell him to work on the fundamentals. But the fundamentals are actually good: The economy is getting better. Americans have both cash and jobs. Sure, inflation is an issue, but it’s a global phenomenon and not unexpected, because we’re coming out of a pandemic. The disconnect between the facts and the polls suggests that Biden’s true problem is a narrative one. Specifically, he doesn’t have an enemy, a punching bag to absorb Americans’ anger (rational or irrational)…

If Biden needs to unite voters, whom should he unite them against? He could wage war on poverty, as Lyndon B. Johnson did. He could battle division—and the forces trying to divide Americans. Or, the Boston College professor Heather Cox Richardson told me, “Biden could easily declare ‘war’ on the authoritarians threatening our democracy, much the same as Abraham Lincoln did when he pulled northerners together to stand against the slaveholders.” That is, he could spend more time trying to direct Americans’ attention to the threat posed by the Trump-directed Republican Party, which is consolidating power at the state level and turning against democracy in large numbers.


So, yeah, she’s joking about calling the FBI on your relatives but at the same time she’s quite serious about getting the White House and the president to attempt to revive his popularity by declaring those same people enemies of the republic. That’s not a joke. She means it quite literally.

Which brings me to my advice for everyone who will be getting together with family this Thanksgiving (or over Christmas): Don’t be Molly Jong-Fast. Don’t assume people you’ve barely talked to in a year are political extremists whose only hope to being restored to sanity are the words of pure sanity coming from your mouth. Only a smug jackass would assume something like that. Instead, try to remember that politics isn’t everything and some things, including family, matter more than whatever political disagreements you might have at this moment in time.

Does that mean you should never talk politics over Thanksgiving? No, of course not. You can talk politics or football or anything else. What matters is how you talk about it. If you start from the idea that members of your own family are the enemy (on the right or left), it’s not going to go well. If you can show a little perspective and a little bit of mutual respect, it’ll be fine.

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Jazz Shaw 8:30 AM | February 25, 2024