The eggnog is flowing. The wine is uncorked. Family members are gathered around the holiday table, and the inevitable occurs: Someone brings up politics.
After baseball, apple pie, and criticizing other people’s parenting, there is perhaps no tradition more American than an old-fashioned political volley between family members.
This year, with a record number of presidential hopefuls clamoring for media and voter attention, there is no shortage of gaffes to guffaw at, or sound bites to chomp on. One candidate in particular, perhaps, has the potential to derail a civil dinner table conversation in his ascent to the top of the Republican primary race.
The real estate mogul’s ability to divide the electorate with talk about barring Muslims, investigating mosques, or building a wall at the Mexican border has trickled into households and families this holiday season. In fact, the political discourse is so heated this year that it could be tricky territory for dinner table discussions in the next week or two. “When we’re together as a family, it’s much more fun to talk about things that are happy and light,” said Karen Taylor, 67, of South Portland. Taylor already knows that may be difficult, however, given the fact that she has children on both sides of the Trump divide.
The combination of political heat and holiday family gatherings has many families on alert. “Saturday Night Live” took pains last month to send up such a scenario, in the process suggesting, perhaps rightly, that the soaring hook of an Adele song is the only thing America seems to agree on these days.
Yet in this moment of Trump, whose supporters bill him as the antidote to political correctness in America, there is a quandary of principles when that support comes under the family microscope: Speak up, consequences be damned, à la Trump himself, or remain silent, in the process tacitly admitting that Trump or his opinions may be too divisive for even the closest of families.
BROTHERS AT ODDS
For Taylor, keeping peace in the family is priority No. 1.
Her children and their spouses span the political gamut. And discussion of The Donald remains a strong possibility, one that she’s not looking forward to – perhaps out of memories of the tough talks with her own family years ago.
“My dad and I used to have really heated conversations,” Karen Taylor said. “I think that’s why I became a little bit more closed-lipped about it. My opinion is my opinion. I try not to force it on others.”
A Democrat at heart, Taylor was married to a Republican for 35 years. They almost never discussed politics, going to vote each year knowing that between them, it was a wash.
“We tried not to tell each other who we’d vote for, but we were pretty sure they canceled each other out,” she said.
Now, with her children grown, Karen said she likes to avoid the subject altogether. That may be a tall order this year, with her children split between parties and candidates.
Matt Taylor, 34, of South Portland, and his brother, Travis Taylor, 30, of Gorham, are standing at opposite ends of the political spectrum this year.
“My brother wasn’t too active in politics in most matters, but this cycle, he’s been conducting the Trump train,” Matt Taylor said.
During the most recent Republican debate, it was Travis who tuned in to see the candidates spar.
“We texted back and forth about it … talking about how much he loves Trump,” said Matt Taylor. “And I told him I felt infinitely dumber for having to listen to Trump speak for 30 seconds.”
TRUMP AND ANTI-TRUMP
While Matt Taylor is a close follower of political news, Travis Taylor is the opposite, describing himself as a “political idiot.” Like many Americans, he dips a toe in the political pool when it suits him, only plunging head first during the biggest races.
Yet he finds himself drawn to the Trump platform, even if it began as a terrific way to annoy his brother.
“It started out as sort of a joke, between my brother and I, of me supporting Trump. But I think Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, he doesn’t bite his tongue,” Travis Taylor said.
(For the record, Travis’ wife has threatened to move the family to Canada if Trump wins.)
Travis’ sister, Allison McGonagle, is perhaps the family’s political heavyweight, having studied international political economy at Fordham University in New York City.
She thinks Trump is the greatest thing to ever happen to the Democratic Party, and discounts her brother’s affinity for the tanned, jowly candidate, saying he is “in it for the hairstyle.”
“That’s the thing with Trump, it’s rhetoric,” she said. “Matthew and I tend to argue with statistics.”
She and her brother Matt are usually the ones to team up in a debate, flanking left, while Travis and McGonagle’s husband, Paul, team up to the right.
Paul McGonagle falls into the camp of Trump supporters who think Trump is saying the right things but in the wrong way, potentially offending the wrong country or world leaders.
Similarly, discussing Trump himself comes with risks, Paul McGonagle said.
“I realize it can be really sensitive,” he said. “You don’t want to offend your loved ones. You don’t want to start a ripple in the family relationship.”
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