They say you can choose a lot of things in life, but you can’t choose your family. This is pretty much true across the board, unless you were born so rich you could actually just buy a new family once you get your inheritance. Elijah Wood pretty much lived that fantasy in 1994. Legality of hiring a family aside, it might not be the worst idea in the world in some cases. That said, I love my family. They’re a wonderfully neurotic mess that happens to tolerate me in doses far beyond what I would expect anyone else to, but we’re an incredibly political family overall. This means that, come family gatherings after major political or social events, the conversation is going to devolve into a figurative steel cage death match between FOX News and MSNBC.
The problem is, while my family is great when separated, and generally agrees on the big issues, bringing us together with extended family is like putting Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow and Piers Morgan all in the same place and asking them to behave and interact politely. We’ve improved over the years, but when I was younger and less political, I remember family gatherings basically becoming a play at home version of Hardball, with my dad playing the role of a more conservative Chris Matthews.
Things had been quiet for years, with family gatherings consisting of the usual family updates and small talk, with some light political discussion, until last year’s Thanksgiving. My grandfather is about as conservative as they come, bordering on the Tea Party end of things. At the same time, my cousins from Florida were up, and at least one of them falls on the “Rachel Maddow is too conservative for me” end of the spectrum. The stage was set for a political fight for the ages. It was Tyson vs. Holyfield in my house, and I had ringside seats. Had I known this whole thing was going down, I probably would have made a bag of popcorn to go with my turkey, because the show was about to begin.
It started when I made an offhand comment about the election at dinner. I innocently brought up how I thought the demographics of the voting breakdown were interesting, and could be a problem for the GOP. Suddenly, my grandfather jumps in with points about voter fraud and people voting three times in Chicago, leading to my cousin countering with charges of voter disenfranchisement by the GOP. Next thing you know, the rest of the family has jumped in and taken to the trenches to defend their specific takes on the whole thing. My house had become The O’Reilly Factor. Meanwhile, my mom and dad both shot me this look that I’ve seen many times before. It’s that “Oh my God, what have you done?” look. Of course, then they waded into the fray. My family never shies away from a good political brawl. We live for the argument. Seeing the whole thing going south, I downed a few cups of my rum-filled apple cider. Had you walked in around this time, you would have thought someone accidentally scheduled the DNC and RNC conventions in the same house on the same date.
An hour or so later, things had died down, my grandfather finally giving up after going off on a tangent about Obama’s legal eligibility for the Presidency was shut down by literally everyone else in the room. I had heard the words “socialism” and “police state” enough times to turn it into a drinking game. If a chunk of the family was to be believed, Ron Paul was America’s knight in shining armor and Infowars is a legitimate news source. Things eventually returned to normal though, and everyone made up, but this is how most of our family gatherings tend to go when you assemble the whole family. When everyone eventually went home, their goodbyes all included hints of next year’s rematch, when the assembled family would once again attempt to change the minds of people completely opposed to changing their minds.
I’m sure I’m not the only one whose family decides they want to wax political on the holidays. From what I hear, it happens pretty often. It’s a huge mess when it happens, and people’s feelings can get hurt, especially when your family runs the gamut from John Birch conservatives to borderline anarchists. The devolution of any big holiday gathering into classy and fairly well educated version of Jerry Springer is something to be prepared for, but you should totally embrace it. Nothing makes for a better family story than the time someone ended up with gravy thrown at them because their political ideology got torn apart at a family dinner, though it could make your dry cleaning bill a bit more expensive around the holidays.