We’ve been talking about the recent U.S. election a lot, and from many angles: people are scared about their marriages, about bigotry, about their health insurance. One aspect that we haven’t touched on yet is what it feels like when you’re the only member of your family who didn’t vote for You-Know-Who and how that is impacting family gatherings around the country. People across the United States are scrambling to cancel and rearrange their holiday plans after this month’s election. I’m sure there are those who think this is silly, laughable, ridiculous, even. I’m not one of those people, though, because I also cancelled plans with my family this year. I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case, the political is personal: I’m still not capable of sitting down at a table with immediate family members who actively and intentionally voted against my child (and others who, like him, have a disability).
As someone with complicated and complex family relationships, I am the first person who understands just how hard it can be to cut yourself off from the people you’re most closely related to. For some people, this seems impossible. For others, canceling holiday plans is indicative of a general shift in how Americans speak to one another. As the New York Times explains:
Conversations on those and other delicate issues can be both important and painful, but the reality of American life is that they are happening ever more rarely. Over the past several decades, the United States has become increasingly segregated by class, with college-educated people marrying, living, and socializing apart from less-educated Americans. The result has been that Americans have lost touch with one another, sociologists say, and helps explain why each side is so baffled by the other.
In my case, this reality is all the more painful because I’m not baffled by the family I won’t see on Thanksgiving. I knew all along who they were voting for. I knew that despite my many, many conversations with them on the topic, and despite the effort I have expended for years when trying to (sometimes) patiently and (other times) impatiently explain the differences in our views, and to explain what those differences mean in real life for real people… I knew that they would still vote the way they did. But that doesn’t mean it’s not breaking me on the inside, and it doesn’t mean that I can see them right now.
I love my family. It hurts, deeply, that this year we won’t sit around my mom’s chocolate pie and my husband’s green bean casserole, watching Rocky installments until we fall asleep or a Harry Potter marathon starts up on ABC. It hurts that the only interaction we’ve had was a text exchange of “I love you” and “I love you, too.” But I know what I believe, and I know what I’m capable of. Right now, both Thanksgiving scenarios (one in which we peacefully sit around a table and the more likely one where I bring up racism, ableism, and bigotry and end up crying and leaving early anyway) are so far from what I want or need in my life, and opting out is the best choice. And while that sucks… I relate to this:
“I don’t want to be part of the grand narrative that the ‘liberal elite’ doesn’t get the working class,” she said. “I am from the working class. I’m now pretty solidly middle class. But to my relatives, I’m elite, over-educated, and too well read, an alien.”
She added: “I used to feel like I was building community, but now I feel like I’m taking part in the dissolution of it. I feel like a stranger in a strange land.”
It sucks, but it’s life right now, and living any other way would be dishonest and painful. More importantly, it’s my choice—and it’s one that I’m at peace with.
What about you guys: are you changing your holiday plans this year? Why or why not?