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How to survive Thanksgiving in these politically divisive times

Thanksgiving: a good a time as any to remind ourselves why we don't see our extended family more often.

Thanksgiving: a good a time as any to remind ourselves why we don't see our extended family more often.

Despite the best efforts of conflict-averse hosts to maintain Thanksgiving as a day of peace and plenty, it’s a minefield of temptation to debate the hot topics of the day with far-flung relatives we see but once a year, for reasons of which we are quickly reminded.

There’s that uncle with an oddly obsessive outlook on crime in the cities -- though he’s too afraid to drive there -- and the freshly “woke” cousin who thinks every white person living out in Greater Minnesota is a snowmobiling bigot.

Considering the national fuse shortage that made this election one of the most passionately divisive events of a generation, Thanksgiving of 2016 has the potential to become -- even for the most moderate of Minnesotan families -- a strenuous exercise in tongue-holding and battle-picking.

To fight or not to fight. For those of us who feel betrayed by our own echo chambers, do we start with our own families as we attempt to understand the other side, or is that just a certain recipe for indigestion?

Shawn, 24, of Bloomington, is a gay man who convinced his Republican parents to support Hillary Clinton. Arguing about politics is unshakable from the Thanksgiving experience at his house, though he usually prefers to avoid eye contact and endure quietly.

“Honestly, I really can’t stand when people are so enthralled with some political ideal or another that doesn’t really affect their day-to-day life,” he says. “Like who do you know that’s on welfare that you hate so much? Talk about anything other than that. Like movies, or the last time you jerked off and it was really great.”

This year, though, there’s a good chance he just might cross swords with one relative above all, an aunt whom he describes as “one of those conspiratorially religious Christian people.”

This aunt, who upon Barack Obama’s re-election, muttered something about him being the Anti-Christ who would usher in the end times, nevertheless still hated Donald Trump. She only voted for him because she wanted a conservative Supreme Court appointee.

“I think my aunt, who called [Trump] stupid and all this stuff, may feel a little bit sheepish because he’s won now,” Shawn says. “I’m just wondering how her storyline is going to change. I don’t know if she expected him to win, but he did. So now what?”

Tommy, a Trump-supporting Minneapolis transplant from Indiana, is going home to his Trump-supporting family this year with liberal girlfriend in tow.

Last year, when he did Thanksgiving with her clan, there was abundant Republican-bashing. While her dad most earnestly declared how thankful he was that there were no Republicans under his roof, Tommy sweat in silence.

Tommy has at least one other conservative friend who got dumped immediately upon Trump’s election. But his relationship survived the past year, he says, thanks in part to his Bernie Sanders-supporting girlfriend’s distaste for Clinton, and their unspoken decision to focus on the things they had in common.

The only dinner guest who might have a problem, Tommy says, is his intensely liberal little brother, whom he cannot help but love tormenting.

“He just kind of blocks it out. He does this lip smacking thing and walks away,” Tommy says. He admits that as an older sibling, this does give him a sick sense of joy. And this Thanksgiving, he doesn’t intend to cut his brother any slack.

Karla, a Democrat hosting a mixed party of liberals and conservatives, has enacted a hard and fast rule of absolutely no politics at dinner out of respect for her husband’s Trump-supporting brother. A big hunter who grew up in the conservative part of eastern Colorado, he just happens to be more concerned about taking care of his family than taking care of others.

Apart from their political views, her Trump-supporting relatives are probably the ones that she gets along with the best, Karla says.

“Well, I don’t know if I appreciate where they’re coming from, but it’s just part of them,” she says. “It doesn’t fully define them. They’re good people who view things different than we do. It’s a losing proposition to have a conversation about it.”

Stephen of Zimmerman, a town of 5,000 northwest of the Twin Cities, is also hosting. But as a Trump supporter, he's looking forward to a full-on reckoning with his classically liberal family.

Stephen is half Native American and half Puerto Rican, adopted at a young age by a loving white family. He started off supporting Sanders, but was quickly turned off by what he saw as the close-mindedness of the far-left.

"As somebody who was adopted by a wonderful white family, it really hurts me to hear white people speak so ill of other white folk," he says. "After a while I just kind of started aligning myself to people who are unfairly labeled as simpletons, because that's just not right."

For the most part, his family hasn't wanted to talk to him about how he came to support Trump. His Democrat uncles are older men with heart conditions now, so he understands. But it is encouraging, he says, that his Hillary-supporting mother just started to ask questions about Trump.

"I keep pushing that barrier because I think it's important for Americans to have that discussion," he says. "We have to peel that onion. Politics is just one aspect of who I am as a person. We're supposed to share these things."