We have never had political arguments on Thanksgiving in our household. But on other holidays when there are large gatherings of Geoff B relatives, yes, we have had some arguments. And some of them have been contentious.
I recently had a long discussion with my 23-year-old politically active left-wing daughter that was a huge breakthrough for both of us. We came from opposite perspectives on many issues, but we were able to understand each other. So I wanted to share this conversation with you in the hopes that maybe it could help you if you find yourself chatting about politics during the holidays. (By the way, if you don’t ever discuss politics during the holidays, then good for you. I don’t seek out these discussions, but somehow they still always seem to happen.)
My daughter’s perspective is: she hates President Trump because she feels he is sexist and racist and rude. My daughter favors some kind of improved health care for all and more government welfare for the very poor. She is pro-immigrant. She praises the politics of the Nordic countries like Sweden and Denmark. I would point out that she has changed a bit in the last few years because she is on her own and working, and she doesn’t like all of the taxes that are taken out of her paycheck, so we have a point of agreement there. Also, when it comes to abortion, we both agree that abortion after 20 weeks should be illegal except in the most extreme circumstances, so there is another point of agreement. We are both anti-war, pro civil liberties and against the death penalty, so again we have some broad areas of agreement.
So, here is how we actually reached some agreement on other issues:
I emphasized the following: I also do not like President Trump’s behavior a lot of the time. I don’t like how he has treated women. No Christian can defend how he talked in the Access Hollywood tape. As I have written on M*, that was probably the single most offensive thing any presidential candidate (and then president) has ever said on tape. But I also pointed out that other presidents have engaged in objectionable behavior. I told her some of the history of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose rhetoric, lifestyle and political shenanigans are even worse than Trump’s. Then I pointed out the long history of presidents, from FDR to Eisenhower to JFK to Clinton, who have had multiple lovers even while in the White House. At the end of the day, we agreed after discussing the history, that Trump is one of the worst in terms of his behavior and rhetoric, but what is most important are his policies.
When it comes to immigration, I emphasized that I am also pro-immigrant. I believe the United States needs more immigration, not less. I pointed out that I don’t like a lot of President Trump’s rhetoric on this issue. He always seems to say things in the least politic ways. But I pointed out that there are issues of basic fairness at stake. How is it morally right for legal immigrants who have been following the rules to see illegal immigrants enter the country without any real consequences? I am very involved in the Hispanic community in Colorado, and I can tell you without a doubt that it is still very easy for illegal immigrants to get work in the United States. I know literally dozens of people personally who have been in the United States for more than decade without any legal documentation at all, and they get work making $15 an hour or more in various trades without any serious issues. So, how is this fair to the people who came here 10 years ago and are still making their way through the legal immigration system? We came to a point of agreement on this issue.
When it comes to the poor and the welfare state, I emphasized that as a Christian I feel it is an obligation to help the poor. But I have many issues with how the welfare state is administered in the United States. Here are my issues:
1)We have a system of force when it comes to taxation, and I favor voluntary behavior, not force. I pointed out that if politicians were more willing to recognize that there is no such thing as “government money,” but instead that all government projects involve taking money from some people by force and giving it to others, politicians would be more frugal with spending plans. My daughter had recently heard about mutual aid societies like the Elks and the Lions and the Knights of Columbus. I pointed out that these voluntary mutual aid societies have been hugely successful in helping the poor but that government welfare crowds out voluntary charity. We both agreed that voluntary charity was better (morally) than forced charity.
2)I pointed out that when you study the history of the Nordic countries, they are not socialist countries. They are capitalist, pro-market countries with strong welfare states. Many Nordic countries have some of the most market-friendly environments in the world. But they are also small, relatively homogeneous countries that are difficult to compare usefully to the United States, with its extremely diverse population of 320 million or so. In many Nordic countries, you pay your taxes on the local level. You can see that your taxes go to the building of a new hospital a few kilometers away. I pointed out that I would have much less of a problem paying taxes if I could see the fruits of my taxes going to actually help the poor around me. We agreed on this issue.
3)Most of the taxes that people pay are on the federal level in the United States. This means that you send a check to a huge, impersonal bureaucracy. A relatively small amount of that money actually goes to the very needy. But we agreed that the federal government does all kinds of things we don’t like. We don’t like NSA spying on people in the U.S. We don’t like all of the foreign wars politicians have promoted in the last few decades. We don’t like subsidies for big agriculture companies. We don’t like the crony capitalism. My daughter said to me: “when you look at all of the bad things the federal government does, it is completely understandable that people would not want to pay taxes.” Amen to that.
4)We also agreed that the massive government debt is a huge threat to the future, especially to my daughter’s generation and younger. This debt will have to be paid off one way or another, either through reduced services, higher taxes, or higher inflation (which is in effect a tax). If you look at the projections, Social Security may not exist in 44 years when my daughter may be ready to retire. How is it fair or moral for millions of young people to pay into a system that today supports relatively well off older people, especially when these young people may never benefit from the system? We found ourselves in violent agreement on this issue.
As a last point of agreement, we both agreed that we don’t like either of the political parties in the United States. We are both independent-minded. She is a registered Democrat, and I am a register Republican, but we both disagree with our political parties all the time.
If there is a pattern in all of this, it is that people with very different perspectives can find areas of agreement if they try. It is also true that when people actually talk to each other they are less likely to have contentious discussions. The Thanksgiving dinner table is probably not the right place to have such discussions. I would suggest going on a long walk or hike with your relative with whom you disagree. Maybe in such a one-on-one environment, you can find areas where you agree rather than disagree. And if you are open to seeing the other side, maybe you will even find yourself changing your mind on some issues.
So, happy Thanksgiving and the rest of the holidays to all!