The XX Factor

How To Pick a Fight With Your Relatives This Thanksgiving



If your family is anything like mine, then Thanksgiving is sort of like a brief military deployment after months and months of training. You’ve prepared all year in Internet comment sections and by yelling at Fox News on the television screen, and now you find yourself face-to-face, in close quarters, with actual Republicans, right across the table. They’re not going anywhere, and neither are you. Despite what you’ve heard about avoiding holiday conflict, now is your time to fight.

So here are some good rules to follow to make sure your Thanksgiving descends into a screaming match that mortifies your loved ones and makes you feel superior to all your troglodyte cousins.

1) Select Your Target. Obviously, you need to find someone who disagrees with you politically. But not just anyone: Close relatives present perilous risks. Your parents or siblings can drag all sorts of emotional baggage into the fight, muddying the waters and making it more about how your veganism ruined that family vacation to Yellowstone in 1999 than whether “job-killer” is a racist code word. It’s safest to go with relatives you only see once or twice a year. Your angry drunk uncle, if he’s game. Or that weird cousin who joined the Civil Air Patrol when you were in college.

2) Getting Started. First off, you should wait until everyone’s seated at the table before you try to get things started. That way you have a captive audience that has to watch the fireworks, and everyone is settled in for a nice long time. Getting the topic of conversation to politics shouldn’t be too hard. Stick to short, sarcastic, tendentious remarks to get things going. “I’m thankful for all that free stuff Obama gave me.” Once you’ve engaged the enemy, it won’t take much effort to pivot to whatever particular subject you feel most comfortable with. A good Thanksgiving skirmish will scamper from topic to topic wildly and without warning, but it’s best to begin by digging into one particularly contentious subject to get tempers flared. Which brings us to …

3) What Should We Fight About? Israel. You should fight about Israel. Particularly if you are Jewish or are married to a Jew or are the child of an Evangelical Christian. If you can find a way to work your way backward to the Clinton impeachment, that’s always a gold mine of long-repressed rage and conflict. Otherwise you are stuck with the election—amateur hour.

4) How Much Should I Drink? As much as you can.

5) How Do I Know If I’m Winning? Think of it as one of those blue vs. red military exercises. When your adversary gets frustrated and inadvertently sputters out a transparently racist epithet (I once got my uncle to shout “because they’re swinging on trees and eating bananas!” during a Thanksgiving fight about the Sandinistas), that’s like capturing their flag.

6) When Should I Toss My Silverware Onto My Plate and Stalk Dramatically Away From the Table? This is an important moment. Pulling the trigger too soon can make you seem petty and overly sensitive (you’re really going to run away over a Joe Biden joke recycled from Dennis Miller?), but disengaging too late risks letting things get out of hand. Plus, it’s wise to build in some time between the end of the fight and the end-of-dinner goodbyes to let everyone cool off. And it’s crucial that you walk away before your adversary does—if he leaves first, everyone else at the table is left looking at you and seething. I like to time things so that I walk away in a huff right before coffee is served.

But remember: Keep it light. You’re providing entertainment/mortification for the rest of the table, so try to hit a tone of bemused contempt rather than righteous outrage. And be thankful that you have a retrograde family to make you feel better about yourself.