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If you must talk politics at Thanksgiving dinner, follow these rules of engagement


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In 2020, living in a politically polarized America can feel like being in an unhappy marriage — except, in this case, divorce is no remedy.

Reeling from the election, the country feels bitterly divided. What if your family have opposing political beliefs? And you are joining them for Thanksgiving? If it’s a virtual occasion, this situation may be easier to deal with. Put yourself on mute if you think you’re going to explode, and keep your finger hovering over the Zoom

mute button for other hotheads, too.

When dealing with perceived slights and real insults between friends, frenemies or relatives, resist telling that person exactly what you think of them via text or email. Don’t send Facebook messages. Don’t Slack
and, for the love of God, please don’t tweet

 your views. That could ruin your career, as well as your relationship with the in-laws.

Thanksgiving dinner will already have a turkey and doesn’t need two headless chickens fighting over the soul of the nation.

Thanksgiving dinner typically affords its opportunities to dish out views in a face-to-face manner. What you say in that mode cannot be produced as evidence against you, and it cannot be screen-shot and beamed to a billboard on Times Square. But ill-chosen words over dinner still can’t be taken back.

Employing perfect diplomacy after a long drive or an even longer dinner is difficult. Whatever your feelings on President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election as more states certify the results or President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet choices, bite your tongue.

Conversations about how Columbus managed to “discover” a country that was already populated by indigenous peoples and why people should wear masks indoors may also be prickly topics, even if these might be opportunities for intrafamilial, and intergenerational, edification.

Bottom line: Imbued with a couple of glasses of wine and resentments from Thanksgivings of yore, the “avoid this, avoid that” rule of thumb is good in theory, but rarely works in practice. And although health experts advise people not to travel, an estimated 50 million Americans this year will do so.

If you are spending Thanksgiving with family? Read on.

Follow these 5 rules of engagement:

1. If things get heated, remember your sparring partner’s good qualities. You can always find something. He loves his wife. She is a good mother. Or try putting yourself in their shoes, always a compassionate act. He had a poor childhood, and didn’t have the same opportunities. Or she had a privileged upbringing, which has shielded her from many of life’s trials and tribulations.

2. So what happens if/when the conversation rolls around to the election? A question is better than a statement. “Why do you say that?” is better than “You liberals/conservatives are all a bunch of … ” But avoid questions starting with “Do you not think that … ?” Nobody likes to be told what to think.

3. Tell them how you feel, not what they are. If your sibling or in-law says you can’t take a joke, hold them to their words and say it again: “It hurt my feelings.” Avoid: “You’re a no-good Democratic … ” Or: “You’re a GOP-loving … ”

Related:Dr. Fauci on Cuomo’s decision to review vaccines for New Yorkers: ‘Trust the process because it is a sound process’

If you must talk politics at Thanksgiving dinner, follow these rules of engagement 2

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4. If your mother-in-law says, “I wanted Daisy to marry a Republican like her father” or “I wanted Jack to marry a Democrat like his first wife, Laurie. I miss Laurie.” Don’t react, or lie. Smiling politely (or sarcastically) at such an unflattering comment can feel like you’re taking the moral high ground, but seldom does it make us feel better, or help.Try, “Daisy has good taste.” Or, “Jack knows best.”

5. Thanksgiving dinner will already have a turkey, and it doesn’t need two headless chickens fighting over the soul of the nation. If your diehard conservative mother or bleeding-heart father wants to exorcise demons by trying to awaken yours, don’t play along. Say, “Enough is enough,” take out the playing cards, and suggest a game of gin rummy.

And if that fails to keep the peace? Take a deep breath — and think of the inheritance.

Still, there is some good news ahead of turkey day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

surpassed 30,000 for the first time on Tuesday amid progress in a transition of power to the Biden administration, though the blue-chip index lost its footing above that level Wednesday, while the S&P 500

edged lower by 0.16%.

Before you have that first glass of wine, breathe. We have a better chance of controlling our adrenaline, heart rate and, ergo, our emotions if we do that. If you don’t meditate, it’s a good time to start. You will not be able to change other people’s political beliefs. Attempting to control what others do or think or say is a fool’s errand. Ultimately, it’s above all of our pay grades.

Quentin Fottrell is the Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected]. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

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