Students struggle with post-election talk at Thanksgiving with their families


Liz Post ’19 may sit out Thanksgiving dinner with her mother’s family this year. As a liberal-leaning independent, Post voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election, but members of her mother’s side of the family supported president-elect Donald Trump. Although Post and her family try to avoid discussing politics whenever they get together, she fears that after such a divisive election, any mention of politics might turn the dinner table into a battleground. “I feel like it’s too soon for me and I feel like it’s too soon for them to come to terms with [the election],” said Post. “I don’t think that politics have ever been more personal than in our lifetime.”

Post isn’t the only Mount Holyoke student who is concerned that partisan politics might polarize this year’s Thanksgiving holiday. Eva Thibeault ’19, another independent with a conservative extended family, has also debated not going to see her relatives this year, but she has had a hard time justifying that option. “I should go,” she said. “What is it going to help if I don’t go? It’s not going to convince them of anything.” 

In the aftermath of the election, it appears that students who backed Hillary Clinton aren’t quite ready to engage with people who supported Donald Trump, even if they are friends or family members. This unwillingness to engage is not unique to Mount Holyoke, as many people across the country are still dismayed the results of the election. It appears that on a national level, the conversation across both sides of the political aisle had stopped long before the election. According to a study on political partisanship released in June by Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Democrats polled viewed Republicans as more closed-minded than other Americans. In turn, 52 percent of Republicans polled held that same opinion of Democrats. Negative views like these make it hard foster an environment of open discussions.

India Murphy ’19 attempted to have those such discussions with her Trump-supporting friends back in her hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina. “That discussion didn’t go too well,” she said. “And that was before he even won. I don’t know if I ever was ready [to talk about it]. I don’t know if I ever will be. That’s just a taboo topic now.”

Post is still open to listening to the views of the Trump supporters she knows; however, she is nervous about how the conversation might play out. “I feel like this election was so earth-shattering that we shouldn’t not talk about it, but I’m scared to talk about it because I feel like I’m going to get so emotional,” she said. “I want to try and understand where they’re coming from, but I feel like they’re going to give me an answer that I’m going to be so disappointed in.”

For students like Elizabeth Desimone ’18, the vice-president of the College Republicans, it is possible to have tough political conversations with family members without any loss in love. “Overall, our discussions about politics are filled with dry-humor with one of us blaming the other in jest about some social issue,” said Desimone, describing conversations with her family, which includes a liberal aunt and uncle.  “I still remember how my uncle teased me when I was 12 saying, ‘Poverty is your fault.’ I quipped that, ‘We’ll take domestic poverty if you’ll take world hunger and prostitution.’”

Reagan Brown ’17 and her older sister have also grown up having to defend their leftist views against their Republican-leaning father. “My dad had us grow up in a way where he’d push our buttons and he’d say stuff so we’d react,” she explained. “He’d say ‘if that weren’t me, if I weren’t your father, would you react this way to it? Where’s your argument?’ So you had to come up with an argument rather than fuming in your own anger.”

Brown thinks that these discussions need to be had, whether it is between dissenting family members at the dinner table or in the dining halls at Mount Holyoke. She does not think that people have to come to an agreement, but they should at least respect each other’s opinions and feelings. “Because until you have those discussions about why you’re different, you’re still going to have a huge divide,” she said.

For now, students like Murphy who are worn out by the election do not know when or if they’ll ever be willing to bridge that divide. A bipartisan conversation is not something Murphy believes she can handle at this point in time. “Maybe for other people who are more capable of handling it, but for me, no,” she said. “I need a break. I need time to be angry, to process my emotions, and then maybe once I’m more comfortable, my next step would be how do I enact change in my community and in the people around me.” 

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