The Tightening Grip of the Politicized Life

The Tightening Grip of the Politicized Life
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Thanksgiving is right around the corner, friends, and you know what that means: a fresh new batch of think pieces on how to be the most unbearable person at your family’s holiday gathering.

On Monday, Vox.com led the charge, publishing a multi-part guide on “How to Survive Your Family’s Thanksgiving Arguments.” On the plus side, the piece is unintentionally hilarious. On the minus side, the whole thing should probably be marked off with bright yellow “Warning: Do Not Cross Unless You Are Completely Insufferable” hazard tape. Also, in a more just world, the links to the various sections of the piece—“Syria/ISIS,” “Donald Trump,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Benghazi,” and so on—would automatically trigger those cheap-looking, high-wailing sirens that faithfully guard the bad guy’s lair in pretty much every B movie ever made. 

“This week, families will gather to eat, drink, reminisce—and, inevitably, argue about what’s going on in the news,” Vox chirps, strangely cheerful for an organization bent on ruining the holidays. “Here are some topics likely to come up and some pointers on how to respond to what your relatives might say.”

It’s hard to pick a favorite part of Vox’s earnest instruction guide to having no social skills, but let’s go with the section on Bernie Sanders. “Bernie Sanders is almost tailor-made to be a great topic for Thanksgiving dinner table arguments,” writes Dylan Matthews, who either resides on the far moon of the planet Uranus, has a delightfully dark sense of humor, or was unwillingly assigned this piece and decided to approach it with a modicum of tepid despair. “So, when the yelling commences, here’s what you should yell back.”

Okay, here we go. When your father-in-law says Bernie Sanders is “a filthy red! He’d turn America into a Soviet hellhole”—it actually says that, by the way—you’re supposed to come back with something like this: “You know what? You’re probably right, father-in-law! Bernie does keep talking about some sort of political revolution, and he did spend his honeymoon in the USSR!”

Next, you’re supposed to guzzle a whole bottle of cheap red wine, hurl the bottle into your aunt’s favorite Thomas Kinkade painting, and valiantly flip the table over, mashed potatoes and all, leaving nothing but the sound of your 7-year-old cousin’s quiet, terrified breathing.

Just joking. According to Vox, you’re supposed to patiently explain that Bernie would “turn America into a Scandinavian,” not Soviet,hellhole (or utopia, depending on your view of things.)” Also, does your father-in-law know that the “infant mortality in Finland is roughly half that in the U.S.”? Does he know that Scandinavian countries, “in many ways, provide a better life for their most vulnerable residents than the U.S. does”? He doesn’t? Well, then, fill him in! Presto! Your spouse’s father is no longer a benighted, poor man’s Joseph McCarthy.

Well, not really, but he probably does secretly want, like Clark Griswold with his freeloading Cousin Eddie, to drive you out in the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead. Welcome to the politicized life, which has come into full, absurdist flower in this sadly madcap year of 2015. Everything is not awesome, alas; everything is political, even your dysfunctional family dinner.

The beginning of the end, it could be argued, came two years ago, when the Obama administration launched the infamous “Pajama Boy” campaign. Featuring a smug-looking millennial who literally wore an adult-sized, single-zip onesie, the ad encouraged Americans to use the holidays to “wear pajamas,” “drink hot chocolate,” and “talk about getting health insurance” with their families. Pajama Boy may have looked like he would fall over at a micro-aggressive sneeze, but nothing would stop him from stumping for Obamacare. 

Sadly, the proverbial pajama boys of the world—much like the sprawling, increasingly unworkable Affordable Care Act—are now an insistent, annoying part of American life. It’s not hard to see why. The more space the government takes up in our lives—in terms of health care decisions, educational opportunities, small business regulations, or who can say what and when—the more people are going to fight about it. If the government were less consequential in people’s day-to-day doings, the corresponding politics would evoke far less passion and conflict.

But there’s something else going on here: Politics, for many, has morphed into personal identity. Just look at colleges today, where opposing political sentiments or offensive statements can make students collapse like panicked, half-hearted origami. And hey, it makes sense: If politics is the be-all and end-all of life, and you honestly believe we can build a utopia buttressed by bureaucratic control, your personal worth, by logical extension, is ultimately based upon your political beliefs. No offense is too petty to let stand; no Thanksgiving dinner can be left in peace.

This week, let’s give thanks for America’s remaining respites from the politicized life. They may be endangered, but they’re out there—and if we’re smart, we’ll work to expand them. They’re often the best places, after all, to count our many blessings.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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