Talking About Politics With Relatives

Some of the staunchest left-wing supporters I know are converts–people raised in a conservative household, who left home and suddenly realized there was an entirely different, seemingly magical viewpoint available to them, one that didn’t glorify the rapacious tendencies of corporate empires or cry “freedom of religion!” only when the religion in question was Christianity. I was one of those fledgling liberals at 19 years old, getting my ass kicked by the revelation of white privilege and the implosion of countless conservative myths, from welfare queens to just wars. As a liberal convert, I’m glad that I had the childhood experience of listening to Rush Limbaugh on car trips, attending church services where women were conspicuously absent from leadership roles, and reading texts that purportedly proved evolution false. I feel like I have a window into the conservative soul. Unfortunately, I also have direct access to as many bona fide Bush supporters as I want, 24/7, in the form of any of my adult family members.

I recently moved to the same city as my grandparents, a couple nearing 80 who have spent their lives serving in the military and fronting youth outreach programs. They are the most generous people I have ever met, not only with their finances, but also their time and energy. They love people and are always seeking to personally make others’ lives better. I just wish their politics lined up with their personal beliefs.

At a recent dinner, keyed up no doubt by midterm elections, my grandparents kept pushing the subject of politics. At one point, I put my hands up and said, “I really don’t like discussing politics with anyone I love. It doesn’t end well,” but that aroused further inquiries and the dropping of the atomic bomb of political phrases, “Our country is headed in the wrong direction.” Once I tentatively referenced the Bush tax cuts, the blaze lit under my grandparents was unquenchable, and a litany of Reaganomics citations, equations of communism and socialism, and, of course, some bullshit statistics (“50% of people in this country don’t pay taxes”) spewed forth.  I and my viewpoints were completely trampled in the battle, not least because my grandparents didn’t believe about 90% of the things I told them (“Did you know the deficit is lower right now than it was in 2008, Bush’s last year in office?”) and shook their heads at all the “mainstream-media propaganda” I was reading.

Things got really out of hand when we discussed the lack of jobs in America. I cited corporations outsourcing, and in some instances benefiting from sweatshop labor overseas. I thought if anything could arouse the sympathy of my soft-hearted g-parents, it’d be this. I was mistaken. Apparently, “sweatshop” is a pejorative term, companies wouldn’t be outsourcing if the damn EPA would allow them to just toss toxins in rivers already, and anyway, nobody said capitalism was a nice game to play. When I rushed to agree with that assessment of unchecked capitalism, my grandparents just shrugged. They might as well have given the “greed is good” speech from Wall Street, they were that nonplussed. I successfully changed the subject, finally.

From now on, I’ll be sticking to my old policy when it comes to politics and family: avoid, avoid, avoid. I’m not going to change their minds, and they sure as hell aren’t changing mine. And I’d rather enjoy my lovely grandparents without dealing with their Jekyll-and-Hyde approach to life and politics.

2 replies on “Talking About Politics With Relatives”

I come from progressive, vaguely hippy-ish people on both sides. I never had to confront right wing politics until my mom started dating a conservative and practicing catholic. The religious thing is more an issue as I’m openly atheist. I just remind myself that my mom dates this man, not I, and I don’t have to have any kind of relationship with him. (My mom gets this, and is okay with it.)

I also opt for avoid, just smile and grit the teeth. Family politics trumps my personal poltics. Cannot win because the borg of an Asian family will swallow and absorb the person, like an amoeba.
I’ve had a very tough time when I hear casual racist crud about my people from my in-laws. There are greater battles to be waged where my energies and efforts are worthy. Family dinners are my Antietam and Gettysburg.

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