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National Issues

Talking politics? Pass the Merlot

With final exams behind them, Duke students now face the test of “delicate” political conversations with Uncle Fred or cousin Marge over the holiday dinner table. We asked Campaign Stop’s student bloggers, a fairly opinionated bunch themselves, to share some of their strategies for handling these potentially fraught discussions. Here are their responses, securely cloaked in anonymity:


“My immediate family doesn’t talk about politics much. My in-laws, however — well, they’re something else. As extremely conservative Mormons, they believe Obama is the devil and Obamacare is a ploy designed to make white people sterile so Mexicans and Muslims can take over the country.

“I have found that talking politics with them can quickly become a fight. I deal with this by using a calm tone of voice and repeating to them what they say, so they understand how ridiculous they sound. This doesn’t always work, of course, and I’ve hardly changed any minds, but at least it pisses them off.

“Interestingly, even they have had nothing nice to say about Trump. Yesterday, I heard my father-in-law, as he listened to the news, say, ‘What the hell is wrong with that guy?’ about The Donald. It brought a smile to my face and gave me some hope.”


“That’s easy. I just make sure everyone’s wine glass stays full!”


“My biggest regret is that I have no liberal relatives to argue with. I’m fortunate to live in a pretty consistently moderate Republican household, though my family certainly leans very conservative socially — Southern Baptists tend to do so.

“The only issue I have to deal with is that one uncle who supports Trump. The trick to deal with Trump supporters is the knowledge that they generally don’t consider the implications — policy and otherwise — of their candidate. They simply support him on the basis of platitudes instead of policy, like ‘He isn’t afraid to speak his mind’ or ‘He’s driving the media and the Republican establishment crazy,’ as if those were the lone qualifications for the most complicated job in the world.

“Sadly, the way to fight them isn’t with disagreement, … (but) by opening by insulting the president, and then contrasting how Trump would actually be worse, like ‘We put a narcissist with hardly any relevant experience of governing into the Oval Office who was incapable of working with others, and you want to do the very same with Trump?’ This also works with Carson, but as Carson is tanking, it’s perhaps best to just let the collapse continue.”


“Will the answers be anonymous? If so, … I plan to take advantage of Colorado’s uniquely liberal approach to social lubrication.”


“Given we’re in the midst of basketball season, I thought that a sports analogy best explains my holiday conversation strategy. Just like Coach K might say, one’s approach depends on one’s opponent.

“Is your opponent passive? Do they sit back in a zone defense? This is a typical Minnesotan. When discussing politics with him, you have to attack the zone — pull him out of his comfort zone.

“Is your opponent assertive and in-your-face? Are they tough and ready for contact? This is someone who never misses a campaign rally. When discussing politics with her, you have to make your free throws — slowly wear her down.

“Is your opponent a bully? Are they big, strong, and mean? This is the Trump supporter. When discussing politics with him, you have to recognize that it’s going to be a battle — you can’t back down, but you can’t stoop to his level.”


“If immediately steering the conversation towards dessert doesn’t work, I may deflect by paraphrasing (to say the least) JFK: ‘Ask not what your political opinions can do to shape this dinner table; ask what they can do to shape the country.’”


“I think there is less room for heated debate in a question like ‘Who do you think will win the Republican nomination and why?’ as opposed to ‘How do we fix the tax code?’ or ‘What do you make of Obama’s speech last Sunday?’”

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