Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
I, a bleeding heart liberal, am hosting Thanksgiving at my house this year, and was just informed that my husband’s parents voted for Donald Trump. Not only will they be joining us for dinner, but they’ll be spending the entire week with us.
I still feel so angry and heartbroken by the election results, so how exactly am I supposed to welcome them into my home? Is there any way we can avoid talking about politics? Please tell me how I’m supposed to survive the week!
Basket of Anxiety
Dear Basket of Anxiety,
The election of Donald Trump has many people very, very upset. They’re rocked back, blinking, feeling like they woke up to a country that condones hate. They didn’t vote for a person who wants Muslims to register with the government and now they want to know who the hell did.
Political terms are short, but relationships are long. I’m pretty sure that my in-laws voted for Donald Trump, but we’ll never know for sure because I will never, ever ask them. They probably assume that I also voted for Donald Trump because their conservatism is so deeply rooted that they couldn’t fathom that their daughter-in-law is actually such a progressive liberal that she believes in universal basic income. That fact would horrify them, which is why I don’t talk about it.
I love my in-laws, and they love me, and we see the world in fundamentally different ways, which will never change. But I will go to their home on Thanksgiving Day and bring bacon wrapped dates and make pleasant conversation and leave it to my husband to have a difficult conversation with them if political talk does occur. I know that they will never change my mind and that I will never change theirs.
You can’t make your in-laws not talk about politics, but you can make yourself not engage. If they share their opinions, you can do what I do: Listen politely, say, “Oh,” ask if anyone would like more tea, then post a passive-aggressive Facebook status about unexamined misogyny while you’re making the tea.
Your in-laws are two of the people who helped Trump get elected, but that doesn’t mean they’re awful people. I know the urge to blame them is strong. They’re coming to your home, two perfect targets for all of your post-election anxiety and anger. I try to think of such momentous decisions in terms of variables and weights. When you vote for a candidate, you are considering hundreds of variables—the economy, the way they dress, the way they make you feel when you listen to them speak, reproductive rights, human rights, the environment, education, well-paying jobs, healthcare, what scares you the most, and your hope for the future. I don’t know why Donald Trump won, and anyone who claims that they already do know is lying. Unpacking the wild swings of history takes time, lots of time, and no current online thinkpiece has the right answers.
Your in-laws did their civic duty—they went to the polls and they voted their conscience. You may feel that their conscience is racist, sexist, xenophobic, but perhaps their conscience believes that government is a source of oppression and needs to be shrunk. Perhaps their conscience believes that politicians are too comfortable and they longed for someone to show up and disrupt the status quo of national government. Perhaps their conscience lives in a bubble where they can’t imagine anyone that they know or love being negatively affected by harsher immigration enforcement. Perhaps they believe both that racism ended in 1988 and that they are actively at risk of being killed by terrorists. Perhaps they are scared and they made the vote that made them feel safer. Perhaps, in their world, from their perspective, he was the better candidate.
Is everyone who voted for Trump racist? Of course they are, but so is almost everyone who voted for Clinton. In the words of the musical Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a little bit racist.” You hoped that someone openly hostile to Muslims and immigrants and refugees wouldn’t be able to gain entrance to the presidency but, have you met the other presidents? The ones who weren’t Obama? Trump speaking such vitriol out loud, in plain English, in front of reporters, is horrifyingly new, but Trump believing such vitriol is in no way new business.
I believe that those who voted for Donald Trump did so because they weighted different variables than you and I did. My guess is that your in-laws voted and it stopped there. They voted, they’re happy with the result, and they’re going to sit back and relax.
If the election of Donald Trump has you so very upset, then I encourage you to stop worrying about your in-laws and instead refocus on yourself. Liberals have had a lovely eight years in which we could say to ourselves, “Obama has this.” We’ve had eight years in which we haven’t felt much cause to organize, or vote in the midterm elections, or do anything but sit back and think, smugly, about how conservatives in this country are on the way out. But America is a big country and a big country changes slowly and for every push forward the pendulum is compelled to swing back. How far back it goes is up to us.
You voted and you’re not happy with the result so now it’s on you. It’s on you to do more, to get to work, to create and foster and maintain the change that your President-Elect will not. One man does not run America. One man does not direct the course of a country full of 319 million people. Those of the 319 million who get up and do something direct the course of the country. So get up. Do something.
Change doesn’t happen when you get into a fight with your in-laws over economic policy—change happens when you make damn sure that you and everyone you know shows up for every single future election. Change happens when you go to your local city council meeting and actually pay attention to what the fuck they’re up to. Change happens when you write your local and national lawmakers, not once, but over and over again, demanding to know what they’re going to do to ensure that the issues that you care about are represented in their legislation. Change happens when you get six friends together and hold monthly meetings and come up with a plan of action for what you plan to do to proactively to prevent whatever it is that you fear most from a Trump administration. Change happens when you get the fuck out of your feelings and start doing actual work.
Trump won and your in-laws are happy and you gotta get your guest room ready. So what are you going to do about it? Yell at your mother-in-law over mashed potatoes? If she spouts off something about Muslims ruining her casserole/the whole world, sure, by all means, go in on her. But if she simply expresses support for Trump then don’t. Smile. Pass the rolls. And then take a restroom break, bring your phone with, and quietly set up a monthly donation to a charity of your choice.
But don’t stay quiet—get louder and louder, every day. Create a plan for action, implement that plan, and then create a new plan. Make the Donald Trump presidency a catalyst for your newfound activism. Do more to help people then you ever would have done had Clinton won. And don’t worry about Donald Trump. Hold yourself accountable, take targeted action, and make it so that Donald Trump finds himself worrying about you.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.