A lot of Americans grow up believing that politics has no place at the dinner table. If a relative or friend attempts to bring up the presidential race during this holiday season, the theory goes, we should deflect to keep an uneasy peace.
I grew up in a union household with a Jack-and-Jesus wall — portraits of Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy hanging side by side in the living room. My mother believed our future was in the hands of God. Dad preferred to focus on the here and now, putting his faith in the Democrats.
Politics was part of the main course at our dinner table, and I raised my own kids with this proud tradition. I understand that's not the case in a lot of households. Many can easily recite instances in holidays past when the ban on politics saved Christmas.
But this is not a normal holiday season because of Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for president.
In recent weeks, Trump has announced that he wants to close mosques, deport millions of undocumented Mexicans and require Muslims here in the U.S. to register with the government and carry special identification. Last week, when a black protester attempted to interrupt one of his speeches, some of Trump's fans in the crowd kicked and punched him. "Get him the hell out of here," Trump said. "Throw him out."
This happened in Birmingham, Alabama, where a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed four little girls in a church in 1963.
It bears repeating: Trump is leading every other Republican presidential contender in the polls.
You're not alone if you have family or friends who support Trump or at least find him wildly entertaining. Surely, I have some of those relatives. Interestingly, they are the same people who thought Barack Obama would bring ruin to this country. Their list of reasons always began and ended with an assurance that their prediction had nothing to do with his being black.
Now here comes Donald Trump spewing racism and xenophobia to cheering crowds of white people. And guess who's excited. (Hint: They didn't vote for Obama.) And they're coming for dinner.
I understand the reluctance to engage. But this is one of those times in our country when our silence indicts us.
Many Americans who support Trump may not have thought through the implications of what he preaches. They think he speaks for them. Change is scary for people who see it as evidence of their demise, and Trump appeals to those who think white males should still dominate both the discourse and the opportunities in this country.
Yes, I've noticed the women cheering him on. I know a few of them well, and I hear from many more of them through reader mail. There will always be women who prefer the company of men who want to tell them what to believe. Proof, yet again, that women are not a monolithic group.
So, how do we engage at dinner? Research matters. If you know that the facts are on your side, you are less likely to hyperventilate when someone starts screaming at you.
Here's an easy list to jot down on a table napkin, courtesy of PolitiFact, a nonpartisan, Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization that evaluates politicians' claims for accuracy.
PolitiFact's most recent findings on Donald Trump's claims:
True: zero percent.
Mostly True: 7 percent.
Half True: 18 percent.
Mostly False: 13 percent.
False: 41 percent.
Pants on Fire: 21 percent.
Among his statements earning "Pants on Fire": imaginary figures about black-on-white homicides, a rant accusing the Mexican government of sending "the bad ones over" to the U.S. and a claim that he watched "thousands and thousands" of cheering people in an unnamed Arab community in Jersey City, New Jersey, as the twin towers collapsed on 9/11.
From The New York Times, under the headline "Mr. Trump's Applause Lies":
"History teaches that failing to hold a demagogue to account is a dangerous act. It's no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it's an important one."
Trump's growing popularity is a danger to our country. Which brings me, uninvited, back to your dinner table.
Many of us will spend time this holiday season with family and friends with whom we seldom agree. As a columnist, I've learned that no one exchange will change minds, but we have to start somewhere.
Trump is a liar, over and over, and he thinks the majority of Americans are too stupid to care. Pointing this out may not have the desired effect immediately. We want our words to trigger that imaginary light bulb over a person's head, exploding with the illumination of a changed mind. It seldom works that way. But an encounter between loved ones, however unpleasant, can have a long shelf life. Over time, minds can change.
Also, ever so selfishly, I ask that we think about how it feels to remain silent and what responsibility we bear as fellow citizens. Donald Trump is targeting entire groups of people for discrimination and elimination from our country. His most hateful rhetoric inspires the loudest cheers. He wants to change the demographics of America. And he is currently the most popular presidential candidate in the Republican Party.
Knowing that, how could we possibly allow good manners to trump what's good for our country?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Michael Vadon