Since it’s Christmas, many family gatherings are tense enough already: screaming kids, undercooked turkeys, overcooked pies, Legos strewn about. Frazzled travelers and distant relatives we may see only once or twice a year sit in the shadow of celebrations meant to highlight love, redemption, and miracles. A mixture of so many personalities could easily fuel hysteria.
If your family is like mine, smart Aunts nudge us away from political talk as soon as it steeps: “Would anybody like some iced tea?” Having a political commentator—someone who sees cultural significance in things as innocuous as choices of coffee brands, types of snacks offered, and cars in driveways—in the family makes this especially difficult. I know that people tiptoe around me, and thank the newborn King that my family hasn’t disowned me yet. No doubt, I am loved more than I deserve.
I’ve learned that, aside from a well-placed sarcastic quip here and there, I am much better off filling my mouth with cookies and ham than I am by filling my mouth with words. My five pounds of holiday weight are as much a testament to my restraint from ranting as it is a taste for my family’s culinary genius.
In many ways, my family looks like America. We tick off many identity groups: multi-racial, LGBT, Trumpers, Obamaniacal liberals, academics, business-people, millionaires, teachers, Catholics, agnostics, and Evangelicals.
In the interest of completing the conversations that I will avoid today, the input I would offer to split the divide:
1. Overheard: Why does it matter where we recognize the capital of Israel to be?
What I would have said: That’s important to consider this time of year. For many in the world, a “two-state solution” would give Palestinians and Israelis a way to coexist. Both would claim Jerusalem as their capital. The city is a confluence of significances for myriad cultures and religions. To give it to one of those cultures is a symbolic rebuke of that multiculturalism. More importantly, it is a diplomatic slap in the face of the other cultures that claim it. Most importantly, it is a significant deviation from the existing peace process and the tense stability in the region.
It, however, is a bold negotiating tactic that may bring parties back to the negotiating table. To blame new violence on this verges hysteria, and ignores the fact that the Trump decision was the promise made by several politicians on both sides of the aisle over the past thirty years. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.
2. Overheard: Lives are being destroyed by the #MeToo movement, in many cases without evidence, by accusations of things that “were ok” before.
What I would have said: If the groping, propositioning, or lewd talk (or demonstrably worse)by someone who exerted power over them had been directed at your wife, daughter, or mother, would it matter differently? Would you wait for evidence? Would you automatically believe your wife, daughter, or mother? That such actions were ever considered ok is appalling, but I get that the culture accepted and tacitly exerted it. As recently as the 1990s, we had a POTUS who did it without repercussions. We had a SCOTUS nominee, probably equally guilty, that still sits on he highest court in the land.
In 2017, we are again gripped with a hysteria that undermines our most basic human interactions. We are actively redefining what is an appropriate way to speak to and act around neighbors, subordinates, and strangers. We are, probably unfairly, judging past actions by current, in-flux norms. We are injecting a new power gradient into the patriarchy and, yes, some men in power are being disempowered. How do we move forward? Let’s maintain and enforce the standard that we expect every man to treat every woman with the respect we demand for our wives, daughters, and mothers. Of course, this isn’t the full realization of what it should be. Every woman should be treated equally and with the respect we (men) expect to be treated with. Meanwhile, let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.
3. Overheard: This new tax bill ignores me in favor of the rich.
What I would have said: Let’s say that we all earn $50,000 and pay $10,000 in taxes. Our taxes will go down by, let’s say $1500 per year. Now let’s say one of our neighbors earns $500,000 and pay $120,000 in taxes. Let’s say their taxes will go down by $15,000 per year. They still pay about $100,000 more than we pay. Because of math, and not unfairness, they get a larger portion of the cut. And, likely, they get back a smaller percentage of that back in direct benefits. Keep on adding zeroes and we recognize that the very rich pay to keep this government afloat. Our individual portions are pittances, really.
As for corporations who must compete for international customers and capital, they are suddenly in line with the tax rates of other nations. Business folks know that there is now incentive to repatriate money, jobs, and leadership. However, the chance that the results will “trickle-down” to raise wages, productivity, saving, and investment are up in the air. The hysteria of unfairness is nothing really more than recycled rhetoric. Truth is, there is empirical evidence that tax cuts coincide with economic growth. It’s tough to, in a dynamic economy, draw a straight line of causation. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy a little more jingle in our pockets and hold the government accountable for how they spend their portion of our earnings. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.
4. Overheard: Trump is the most divisive, hateful president ever.
What I would have said: Since the beginning of the republic, just over half of the electorate has despised whoever is in the White House. Political intrigue, partisan bickering, dirty trickery, and calls for impeachment have swirled in Washington since, well, before Washington was even a place. Each generation has had its own means for magnifying the noise. Pamphleteers begat yellow journalists begat network newsmen begat 24-hour “breaking news.”
We have had presidents who fit molds and we have had presidents that made them. Definitely, Trump is a disruptor and is a source of discomfort for many who see him as the anti-Obama. Obama fell right into line with how we, as Americans, expected a president to behave. Obama was moderate and willing to split the middle in some ways that frustrated those who expected him to be more disruptive. There is little equivocation in the actions of this president. Like a bull in a hallowed hall, Trump offends and disrupts and uses the insensitive language of a bygone era to call upon the “good old days” that he doesn’t recognize were the province of privilege. There are those who believe he is criminal and who question his motivations. He may be unpolished—to the point of rude and offensive—but I believe that he truly wants what he thinks is best for America. Despite warnings, he has not rounded up and ghettoized gays, hasn’t re-instituted Jim Crow, or rolled back freedoms of speech. Trump is in the lineage of Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt: egomaniacal, sometimes cruel, but transformative of the presidency and of America. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.
5. Overheard: People forget that Jesus is what this season is all about.
What I would have said: For you and me and for our family, that is true. We are not the only family in America. In America, the holiday season is not all about Christmas. America is a diverse nation and even among Christians there are many “right” ways to celebrate Christmas. Other communities celebrate their cultures and their families and their own gods; how lucky are we to live in a nation where we are not all required to worship a god that we do not know as our own with traditions that do not fit into our heritage?! That said, we can worship together, side by side, and share our common rights to worship—or not worship—as we see fit and right. This time of year, regardless of whether we are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist, we can take this time to reflect on the values that should link us all: respect for ourselves and our families, altruism toward those less fortunate, stewardship of our planet, and understanding of our place within a global village. Holidays should be a time to remember what makes us alike and to overlook those forces—entropic hysteria—which work to tear us apart. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.
Merry non-hysterical Christmas, y’all. Love you!
Read more of my poetry, essays, and stories at Momentitiousness.com