Some people (like my friend Tom Nichols) think that you should spend your Thanksgiving playing nice, pretending that your cousin doesn’t follow QAnon and that your uncle doesn’t believe the election was stolen and also that the Cyber Ninjas are a bunch of cucks for not uncovering voter fraud. Tom believes that Thanksgiving is a time for harmony and niceties and gratitude. I love Tom, but he’s completely wrong.
Spending a holiday sitting around, pretending your crazy relatives aren’t crazy, is one of America’s time-honored traditions. In normal times, you could be the dog in the house-fire meme declaring, “This is fine” while taking a sip of doggy coffee, but we are not in normal times.
Last Thanksgiving, many of us didn’t see our families, because the pandemic was raging. Now, 773,000 dead Americans later, we have vaccines and boosters. And while the unvaccinated are still dying at a pretty rapid clip, we are finally able to more safely get together with our parents and grandparents and weird cousins and uncles.
This is your chance to deprogram them. Facebook knows its algorithm radicalizes users. This is your chance to tell your aunt that maybe the news she gets from it isn’t all that reliable. And that maybe the MAGA news network is not giving her unbiased news, either.
Especially when it comes to vaccines, family members can actually win each other’s hearts and minds. A professor who has studied coronavirus-vaccine promotion at North Carolina State University, Stacy Wood, told The Washington Post that “the effort is worthwhile … A lot of people are convinced over time from small bits of information that trickle in.” According to a Time/Harris poll, 59 percent of people got vaccinated after a friend or family member did. You could literally save your creepy uncle’s life.
If you actually can lead by example when it comes to vaccines, what about the other stuff?
In May, The New York Times cited a poll in which “15 percent of Americans [said] they think that the levers of power are controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.” I’m no statistician—in fact I’m barely able to add and subtract; I got a D in tenth-grade math—but to me that says there’s a decent chance someone at your Thanksgiving table will be QAnon-curious or believe the Big Lie. Should you let this person rant and rave about how there were voting “irregularities” even though there weren’t irregularities? If they’re keeping up with current events through Facebook and Fox News, they’re in such an information silo that they might never hear the truth of what really happened during the 2020 election. (For the record: Nothing happened; it was a completely normal election where Joe Biden won by almost the same margin that Donald Trump won in 2016.)
You might be the only person your uncle talks to all year who could explain to him that the Cyber Ninjas themselves found zero evidence of voter fraud. You might be the only person in the world who can sit down with your anti-vax cousin and explain to her that the vaccine won’t make her infertile and that Alex Berenson is a fraud.
You may also be the one person who unreservedly loves Thanksgiving, but let’s be honest, for most of us a five-hour meal with relatives you see once a year is no one’s idea of a great time. Have you ever thought, This is the gauzy Hallmark-movie fantasy I’ve always longed for?
I’ve done 43 Thanksgivings, and the best one was probably in 1997, when I was 19 and getting sober at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota. I’m here to tell you Thanksgiving is terrible, and if you at least spend the time trying to deprogram your niece, you won’t be bored or depressed (though you might be enraged that Fox News or Infowars has convinced her Trump can “save America” from Joe Biden’s radical agenda of giving people hearing aids and free pre-K).
Maybe it won’t work. Maybe you’ll leave Thanksgiving dinner as divided as you were when you sat down at the table five hours and 4,000 calories ago. Or maybe you’ll plant the seed, sow just a little doubt about whatever Tucker Carlson is saying now. Maybe you’ll even change a heart or a mind. Maybe you’ll bring the temperature down just a tiny bit. Or maybe you’ll need to report a relative to the FBI! Either way, it’s something to do besides just eat.