Dealing with conservative relatives: The nuclear option

This morning, I stumbled upon this article on how to deal with conservative relatives on Thanksgiving. I assume the same tips — memorize some liberal talking points and contradictions within right-wing ideology — would work for Christmas as well, but as a seasoned vet of contentious political conversations with relatives, I’d like to add my own advice for ending the conversation and sapping everyone of the will to continue. When challenged by a conservative relative, or indeed even liberal ones (who can be every bit as annoying in their own way), simply respond: “You know what? Believe what you want. You have no power or influence whatsoever, so your opinions really have no effect on anyone but you. If it makes you feel good to think that, far be it from me to deprive you.”

24 thoughts on “Dealing with conservative relatives: The nuclear option

  1. How about, “I’m here because we’re family, not because I’m interested in your politics. In fact, when I think about your politics, I struggle to enjoy being family. Maybe we can talk about our lives instead of avoiding matters that matter by talking about politics.”

  2. I guess my first suggestion does include an effort to figure out how to go on. While I hate my relatives’ politics, I don’t want them to think I’m an asshole (however true that might be at times).

    Was your “sap the will to continue” remark meant to be about the whole enchilada, and not just political talk? I’m genuinely interested here. This comes up all the time when I’m with my extended family in south Texas.

  3. My goal is to make them feel like talking about politics any more is useless — both in general and in terms of annoying me. And maybe to make them feel a little bit pathetic or embarrassed about their enthusiasm for it.

    I’ve not tested it in the field, however.

  4. I do have an uncle who repeatedly wanted to bait me into conversations on Thanksgiving. I was happy to debate with him, though he had a tendency toward fillibustering and toward developing elaborate hypotheticals in situations where there were real-life examples — but the whole thing would really distress my other relatives. I started “phasing out” Thanksgiving the last few years, and my parents said it was actually a relief because my uncle had no one he considered worth arguing with.

  5. I’ve found that by giving a quick half-assed answer and then suggesting the conversation continue later works to my favor. Only once in the last three years has an in-law actually tried to restart the conversation on a particular topic. An example from last week:

    Uncle Chuck: “Hey Mark, Happy Thanksgiving. How’s teaching going? What are you studying now?”

    Me: “Good to see you too. I mostly work in 19th and 20th c. German and French philosopher. Some of my other academic interests are race theory, post-colonialism, etc. and the ways in which various forms of oppression still occur.”

    Uncle Chuck: “What do you mean by ‘oppression’?”

    Me: “You know, like the exploitation and extermination of the indigenous Americans by colonialist Europeans.”

    Uncle Chuch: “Oh, I’m not really familiar with that kind of thing. When did this happen?”

    Me: “Oh yeh? Did happen? Did and still does to most non-whites. Maybe after we eat our Thanksgiving meal we can chat about it if you’re still interested.”

    I’m assuming that everyone can see the connection between this conversation and the idea of politically “conservative relatives.” If not, check this out for an example:

  6. My partner and I have solved this dilemna by being lesbians; we never get invited by her conservative relatives. This can be the Other nuclear option – in the middle of the argument, yell BOO SUCKS TO YOU, I *AM* A BLOODY LESBIAN and during the stunned silence grab your coast and head out the door.

  7. Along the lines of reminding conservatives that they have “no power or influence whatsoever” I highly recommend pointing out to conservatives that, while good at winning elections, they suck out loud at implementing their stated policy objectives: abortion is still legal, Social Security is still untouchable, and even Tea Party activists want the government to keep their hands off of their Medicare. Long live the welfare state! And how bout dem Cowboys!

  8. Adam Kotsko, Side-stepping, really, the issue of realtives per se, I’ll comment on just one aspect of the conservative/ liberal divide, which, as ever, is our neverending discourse within the neverdening culture wars. It seems to me that Congress has become hostage to “true believers” from both parties, and that the lack of sophistication among members of both houses could hasten what would otherwise be an otherwise avoidable train-wreck of calamatous proportions. The reasons for this are multifarious, but in lieu of members of Congress who lack the basic understanding of such things as economic theory and geopolitics, the irrelevance of this branch of our government is only a matter of time. The trajectories of either liberal or conservative agendas in social programs may well need to be postponed until we get our fiscal house in order. No one wants a U.S.A. that represents this, but we’ll have no “American dream” to speak of, unless we grab the nettle about out deficit. How can a president sell something like this? Good question, I think. With regard to
    “American dream” I mean that in the broadest sense, not merely a BMW in every garage (suburban garage, mind you). The telos of democracy is to define the conditions for both liberty and for social justice ad infinitum. However, the particulars of historical contingencies will always be the knots we’ll have to untie as we engage in this sacred ritual.
    Donald Lindeman

  9. A note to everyone: please take a cue from a good 98% of all blog comments on AUFS and abstain from “signing off” your comments with your name. I don’t ask for much: grant me this, please. Filling in the name field is sufficient.

  10. Adam: I don’t agree with your cursory description of what the qualifications might be for becoming a columnist, ‘though I suppose it may be a left-handed complement of sorts. I think many on both left and right in the U.S. would not find my concerns about the deficit an “exaggeration”. A bit ironic, since I suspect that your generation shall be paying for a lot more of it than mine. The prospect of sacrificing revenue for productive social programs in future in order to pay back interest and principle to the Chinese government strikes me as odious. Unfortunately, neither monatery policy nor federal budgets grow on trees, they have to be paid for, by the likes of you and me. When Bernanke raises the spectre of ‘Greece and tears’ I don’t think he’s kidding. That said, the handing over of a gilded-soapbox to Rep. Ron Paul by the House Republicans is pointless and potentially destructive. Is there room for a “Liberal Republican” at your celebration? We have no one left to vote for, but I’m not pounding on the table yet, and would merely like the cranberry sauce passed this way, and perhaps a genial clink of the glasses.

  11. Adam: How can wisdom ever be conventional at all? Perhaps you chide at being engaged in direct discourse. Without specific points to respond to I cannot imagine what “conventionals” or “wisdoms” you may be referring to. Of course there’s the possiblity that you know far more about economic and monetary theory than I, or, that you simply don’t consider these actualities relevant to your world-view. But without some objective correlative for me to comment on or refer to, I can only guess. You may want to leaven your ripostes to your readers with some humor and charity as well, they’re virtually free.

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