Family feud, election edition: Americans brace for Thanksgiving discord

One woman says her family has threatened to cut off her college fund and was told her grandfather was crying in heaven over her vote for Hillary Clinton. As families gather to give thanks, many are preparing for ‘frustration and anger’

When a Massachusetts woman learned that she and her mother could vote early at the same location, she was excited to cast their ballots together in such a historic election.

Both registered Democrats, they took a selfie after voting and sent it to family with the caption: “Voting for the first woman president!”

Days later, they were sitting at the kitchen table when a cousin called Donald Trump rude and awful. In response, the woman’s mother grew angry and argued that Hillary Clinton was corrupt. It became clear she had actually voted for Trump.

Even now, nearly two weeks later, the woman is having some difficulty speaking to her mother.

“There’s another level now where you can try not to talk politics and you just start crying because you’re so disappointed,” the woman, who requested anonymity for her family, said. For Thanksgiving dinner this week, she has even established “safe words” with likeminded relatives so they can redirect the conversation away from politics if necessary.

Many in the United States are feeling a similar sense of Thanksgiving dread. The nation is reeling after a divisive and difficult campaign, during which Trump regularly made racist, sexist and xenophobic statements, leaving many, especially minorities and women, feeling fearful. Going home for the holiday, many are grappling with how their family members could vote for such a person, how to talk to them about their opposing views or whether they even should.

One woman was worried she would be teased for her support of Hillary Clinton. Another was worried about meeting her significant other’s conservative parents for the first time. A few, when discussing their Thanksgiving strategy, quoted Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high.”

Jackie, a 23-year-old underwriting assistant who, like, others the Guardian talked to, didn’t want to use her last name, is planning on skipping Thanksgiving dinner with her family. After telling her relatives that she was voting for Clinton, Jackie was told that she was “disrespectful”, “pathetic” and that her grandfather was crying in heaven because of her vote.

“I was told that my college fund would be cut off, which is weird because I’m going to school on loans in my name,” she said. Jackie’s stepmom and aunts are supportive of her, but some relatives are still angry with her and one aunt still refuses to speak to her. “I know they love me but the text messages I got during this election cycle were downright unforgivable,” she said.

She’s instead spending the holiday with her boyfriend and his family.

Jen, who asked that we not use her real name, comes from a conservative family in Tennessee and often debates politics with her relatives. The 22-year-old, who studies abroad, won’t be flying home until Christmas, but she expects that the conversation will still be difficult. “I always go into the holidays hoping this time I’ll be informed enough or non-combatant enough to push through the wall of rhetoric but so far that hasn’t been the case,” she said, adding: “I’m expecting to walk away with exactly the same amount of frustration and anger I always have.”

“I’m still just ‘too young to understand’, as though the inevitable arc of anyone’s life is that we spend our youths as Democrats but we all become Republicans in the end,” she explained.

trump clinton
‘Every person has to design their own personal strategy for how they’re going to cope.’ Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

After the election, Jen tried to talk with her grandmother over Skype about why she voted for Trump and was met with a head shake. She asked how her grandmother could support Trump’s education policies when Jen has $100,000 in student loans or his foreign policy when her younger sister had just joined the navy. “She didn’t have an answer for me, and that really exacerbated how betrayed I really felt by their vote, particularly in this election,” Jen said.

Marisa Rando is only going home for Thanksgiving because she purchased her flight well in advance. “I don’t think I could even sit with them for that long without feeling the hurt and the literal Republican elephant in the room,” the 22-year-old said. She is generally close with her family and finds it hard to be angry with them, as they’ve given her many opportunities, but their support of Donald Trump has “definitely been distancing to say the least”.

When she flies home to New York from San Francisco for Thanksgiving, her plan is “avoidance”. “I’m just going to try and love them unconditionally because that’s what families do, but it’ll definitely be hard,” she said.

A number of news outlets have put together explainers on how to survive Thanksgiving dinner with a politically divided family. CNN spoke to a psychotherapist and etiquette specialist. The New York Times put together a list of questions to guide the conversation. Quartz interviewed a hostage negotiator.

“There’s not a right answer, there’s not a wrong answer,” said Lois Braverman, president and CEO of the Ackerman Institute for the Family, of navigating political differences within the family. “Every person has to design their own personal strategy for how they’re going to cope.”

She recommended thinking about what outcome you hope for going into Thanksgiving, be it connection or talking about differences. “What is the value that you want to preserve? What do you want to achieve here?” she said.


Nicole Puglise

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How to avoid a fight about Trump during Thanksgiving dinner
From the NFL to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, Donald Trump has turned once-neutral topics into a minefield. Our advice? Keep quiet

Adam Gabbatt

23, Nov, 2017 @10:00 AM

Article image
Fossil feud splits Democrats
Got a minute? Clinton and Sanders fight over fuels … celebrity civil war … Donald Trump sued … and everything else on the campaign trail today. By Alan Yuhas

01, Apr, 2016 @8:29 PM

Article image
Junk the system: why young Americans won’t do as they’re told this election
The diverse millennial generation has seen too few answers from traditional leadership. Now, many of us are losing patience with the political system

Dave Schilling

02, Oct, 2016 @11:30 AM

Article image
Clinton says Trump campaign is 'pitting Americans against Americans'
Hillary Clinton delivered a speech on race, Trump and guns from a statehouse in Springfield, Illinois, on Wednesday, accusing Trump of ‘stoking mistrust’

Jamiles Lartey in New York

13, Jul, 2016 @8:00 PM

Article image
'Drumstick, you are hereby pardoned': Trump spares his first Thanksgiving turkey
President spares Drumstick and Wishbone in annual Thanksgiving tradition – and ignores reporter who asked ‘Are you going to pardon any people?’

David Smith in Washington

21, Nov, 2017 @8:45 PM

Article image
Lame duck pardons turkey: Trump confronts reality at muted Thanksgiving event
At a much diminished White House ceremony, the president seemed to realise that his star has already begun to wane

David Smith in Washington

24, Nov, 2020 @10:19 PM

Article image
Trump-Khan feud escalates on criticism from Obama, McCain – as it happened
Follow along for the latest news from the trail, as Trump’s feud with the parents of a fallen Muslim American soldier – and fellow Republicans – deepens

Scott Bixby

01, Aug, 2016 @9:19 PM

Article image
Fact check: are older Americans really more likely to vote Republican?
In the first of a weekly series examining the American electorate, Guardian US data editor Mona Chalabi asks whether the stereotype is grounded in fact

Mona Chalabi, Guardian US data editor

23, Sep, 2016 @4:25 PM

Article image
US election night 2016 – as it happened
Follow live update, analysis and results from the 2016 presidential election as Donald Trump is declared the winner

Amber Jamieson (now) and Nicky Woolf and Sam Levin and Tom McCarthy (earlier)

09, Nov, 2016 @11:48 AM

Article image
Most Americans do not feel represented by Democrats or Republicans – survey
Poll finds Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to face historically low favourability ratings, while pessimism about the country’s direction has grown

David Smith in Washington

25, Oct, 2016 @9:49 PM