On Navigating The Post-Election Thanksgiving of 2016


By Mary Van de Graaf

Like nearly everyone else on the planet, I’ve spent the past week thinking long and hard about this election, going through every single emotion, trying to make sense of what happened, while simultaneously mourning the loss of all that could have been. I’ve been thinking about the deep discontentment and alarming hatred in this country that brought us to where we now stand, and how we can possibly start to mend the divide. I’ve gone through the very troubling reasons why our country couldn’t get behind Hillary Clinton, behind a woman, behind someone who was so qualified, so smart, dedicated, and so equipped to lead. I’ve thought about what we are supposed to tell our children, whether this electoral college petition thing could actually get Hillary in office (probably not), and of course, what we do now.

It seems that the path ahead is so incredibly dark and windy and fraught with major thorns. I’ve thought a lot about what our Founding Fathers would think (thanks to the Hamilton soundtrack, which has been my running jam for the past six months), and what our children’s children’s children will think, 100 years from now. This election will eventually be taught in history classes across the country. And I think to myself, will this be the impetus that moves our nation forward, or the event that causes it to unravel? My answer depends on the day.

Thanksgiving is coming up and those who find themselves home for the holidays will likely be embroiled in some sort of political discussion. If you’re lucky, your family might all agree and you’ll have a heated conversation about the forces that brought Donald Trump to president-elect status: racism, misogyny, bigotry, sexism, and a fear of otherness. And then you’ll talk about what we can do to combat these -isms, and keep fighting the good fight for “liberty and justice for all.” You’ll talk about volunteering in your community and donating to causes you care about, and taking interest in local and government politics. And that would be a wonderful Thanksgiving. You’d feel a sense of community and camaraderie in the knowledge that you are not alone, that you are surrounded by like-minded people. And it would leave you with hope that maybe we can turn things around and improve our country’s situation in two years at the mid-term election. Yes, that would be great.

But, for many people, Thanksgiving will be a panic-stricken day, akin to walking through a minefield. A minefield of uncles and cousins, and relatives of all sorts, who are bound together by blood and marriage, but who harbor deep-seated differences thanks to generational, geographic, ethnic and educational divides. A minefield of seemingly innocuous topics — the economy, business – that lead to explosive conversations about race, prejudice, immigration, health insurance and freedom. Topics that cause our blood to boil, and make us retreat into our corners and try to change the subject to something more benign for the sake of our mothers and grandmothers who have been slaving away preparing a Thanksgiving feast and who are just so happy just to have their children all under one roof for the day.

For many, this Thanksgiving will require a IV cocktail drip, and the mastery of a very delicate dance that involves avoiding the hot button issues, while your blood pressure steadily rises and you need to excuse yourself to breath into a paper bag, silent-scream, or lock yourself in the bathroom and have a good cry before dinner is served.  And this, my friends, is not only an extremely stressful and unhealthy way to spend Thanksgiving, but I believe this represents a microcosm of  part of what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. The right not talking to the left. The city mice not talking to the country mice. There are cultures and subcultures and bubbles of communities scattered across this country. And they plug along, interacting with people who are exactly the same as themselves. But to say that this is the entire truth treads dangerously on normalization, and we must greatly avoid such a falter.

Sure, the pendulum swings back and forth in this country. But in this election, with this president-elect, that is not the whole story and that is not enough. It is not enough to say that this was inevitable. It is imperative that we remind people – even our relatives and especially our relatives – that he ran his campaign on a platform of hatred for others, and in the short time that he has become president-elect, those ideas have given way to hate crimes that have sprung up across this country. It is imperative that we recognize when we are coming from a place of privilege, and stand up for our brothers and sisters who are the victims of this hate. It is imperative that we support people in this country of all backgrounds, ethnicities, colors and religions, and that we stand in solidarity with them.

This Thanksgiving, perhaps more than any other Thanksgiving, we need to talk to each other about the issues, about the why, and make sure we are standing up for justice. Only then will we start to figure out how to get out of this mess. This year, as we may feel like our country is at the brink of a Civil War, we must remind each other that in the midst of the actual Civil War, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln took it upon himself to proclaim a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November. In his infinite wisdom and compassion, 200 years after the first Thanksgiving supposedly took place, Lincoln took the nation at the most hostile time in its history, and created a reason to come together. I personally find some irony in the fact that Election Day, perhaps the most divisive day of the year, occurs in November, just a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, the holiday of unity and gratitude, when we are supposed to come together and give thanks.

So this Thanksgiving, I will choose to be thankful for my heterogenous family with varied and diverse opinions. I will listen to their arguments, but also reframe the discussion to remind them of what truly fueled his campaign, and how it is inexcusable. I will be thankful for the knowledge that we are stronger together, and thankful for the opportunity to start the conversation about human rights, equality and how to build bridges. This Thanksgiving, armed with a cocktail, the facts, and the knowledge that we are standing up for what is right, we should face our families, and feel confident starting the conversation. Or how else will we get ourselves out of this mess? It is what we should do, and what we need to do, for Abraham Lincoln. And for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mary is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a contributing writer, please click HERE.

{featured image via unsplash}

2 thoughts on “On Navigating The Post-Election Thanksgiving of 2016

  1. unscriptedcafe says:

    Thank you for the great post, and I am too concerned about the big day, and managing different world views. Social justice is a key principle I hold dear, and I will need to tread carefully in any insinuations that those that voted differently than me do not hold that dear as well. For millions of Americans, there is a story, their story, that has not been heard. It is critical that I learn to hear their story, that I consider and learn from opposing views. There is a common ground somewhere, and I cannot “other” those with different views, and hold myself on a pedestal of moral highness. It has been a tough week of personal introspection, because I am not innocent here.


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