Every year around this time I perform the same ritual I've performed for years. In anticipation of family gatherings, holiday parties, and otherwise festive occasions, I comb through a year's worth of articles and factoids I've collected in Evernote or Pocket and prepare for battle. I spend hours arming myself with facts and evidence to fight back the impending and inevitable onslaught of baseless political claims sure to come my way from avid FOX News viewers and Ted Cruz fans.
Earlier this week I had started to write a post containing a few of those facts. I was going to write one of those catchy posts with a title along the lines of, "5 Arguments You Can Win at Thanksgiving." It starts out with a story about the crazy uncle we all have whose political views hover somewhere between conspiracy and insanity and tells you how to beat him into submission with a few handy facts and convenient links to great articles and infographics to back you up.
Halfway through the first or second draft, I started thinking about past gatherings and how I had never referred to those lists. In fact, more often than not most of the arguments had devolved into name calling and both parties questioning how we could be related to one another or how we had become friends. I went through all the possible counter arguments and claims I'd have to face down and rebuff. The list was getting increasingly longer.
Later that afternoon, frustrated that my days of preparation may be in vain, I walked into a place I regularly frequent and was accosted by a guy I don't know very well, but who somehow knows me.
He stood up, pointed a pudgy little finger at me and shouted, "How's your boy Obama doing after getting creamed in that election? That's what happens to Muslims in this country when they pull shit like Benghazi and the IRS stuff."
I now know what the onset of a brain aneurysm might feel like. I felt my brain melt as beads of sweat collected around my temples. How do you address a comment like that? Where do you begin?
Nothing he said had any basis in reality. It was low-hanging fruit to be sure, but there was so much of it that it was impossible to know where to start. Addressing one of the claims would mean ignoring the rest and addressing all of them would take the better part of what was left of the afternoon and most of the evening.
My head went into overdrive: Obama is not a Muslim; earlier this year the Senate"s own report disproved the IRS scandal; Obama didn't even run in the mid-terms; and despite eight investigations into the attack in Benghazi, there were no findings to legitimize the allegations of nefarious activity -- the latest report, co-authored by a republican disproves all the claims. Fox ignored that in their reporting and of course, the finding of the report won't stop the GOP from continuing to bring it up. On Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner announced that he was reappointing members to yet another Benghazi panel. One that doesn't exist.
We live in a country that is governed by people who think science is witchcraft and people who listen to them. People, like Rep. Joe Barton, a chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who on the floor of Congress said this:
Wind is God's way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it's hotter to areas where it's cooler. That's what wind is. Wouldn't it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I'm not saying that's going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can't transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It's just something to think about.
Got that? An elected official openly said on the floor of Congress that he believes the wind is a finite resource, meaning that if we were to harness wind power for something such as electricity, let's say, we would run out of it.
I'm pretty sure we will never run out of wind as long as guys like this keep talking.
Science, the apparent archnemesis of conservatives, recently found that people with opposing political views have fundamentally different brains. According to an article in Mother Jones, "A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics." Essentially the argument is not between people who were raised or educated differently -- it's between people who are in varying stages of intellectual and emotional evolution. It's like arguing with someone from an entirely different planet.
This is particularly relevant in the case of the earlier incident I described. I, like many people, enter into these discussions with the naïve assumption that minds and opinions can be changed with finely tuned arguments, evidence, and facts. That assumption falls apart when considering that my political opponent actually perceives the world differently than I do.
It occurred to me that afternoon as I was heading toward a stroke that no amount of facts or evidence was going to change this guy's mind and that neither of us was going to leave unscathed. I took the easy way out and said, "I'm sorry, but I've stopped arguing with people who are impervious to reality," and left it at that. That's my strategy this Thanksgiving as I sit down for dinner with family.
Should anyone bring up immigration, I'll politely remind them that we are here to celebrate a time when the people of this country welcomed immigrants who didn't speak the local language into their homes, gave them free food, and after dinner had everything they owned taken from them.
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