At Table With the Disagreeable

The moderator of the Town Meeting insured that everyone had their say. Then … it was time to put the matter to a vote …

Some people are scared to death to go to their  family Thanksgiving Dinner next week!

And isn’t it amazing – Obama and Trump really put on a good face following their meeting together, didn’t they?

There is jubilation and fear giving way to terror, all in a matter of minutes, on the same radio talk show. And social media? Forget it! It’s all over the map, but perhaps you haven’t noticed. In fact, there is a good chance that people haven’t noticed at a level beyond the superficial with regard to what is being said if it doesn’t reflect what they already believe.

How can I even be at the table this Thanksgiving with Uncle So-N-So? He is obnoxious in his support of Donald Trump!

“If you are in favor,” said the moderator, making sure everyone was attentive, “signify by saying ‘Aye’!” He listened intently, trying to accurately measure the number of voices against the volume they were able to muster. It’s an old trick – shouting your vote as loud as possible in the attempt to create the illusion that you are the majority.

President-Elect Trump himself seems to be struggling the most with  anyone who disagrees with him. Don’t even suggest that the transition isn’t going “smoothly”. His tweets on November 16 referred specifically to the “failing NY Times” and to how, in his opinion, the paper “looked like fools in their coverage” of him. Evidently, someone from the inner circle of Trump supporters is reading the New York Times even if Mr. Trump isn’t reading it personally. It doesn’t matter which party you relate to, politicians have to get used to the idea of an open, free and critical press and media.

It’s a strange mix of sad and frightening to witness Mr. Trump’s disdain of the media. Ironically, he received extensive media coverage throughout the campaign (and continues to do so since his election just over a week ago). Mr. Trump received more than twice the headlines  as did Mrs. Clinton cross eight media outlets – New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Politico, Fox News and the Weekly Standard – between July 1, 2015 and August 31, 2016. Had that been reversed, wouldn’t Mr. Trump have been screaming “unfair”?

This particular Town Moderator was memorable not for how he called for the votes “in favor”, but for how he called for those opposing the motion. He was the moderator before my time in this small Vermont community; but his reputation lived on long after he was gone. After securing the “Aye’s”, he would then make this call: “Everyone who is contrary minded, say ‘Nay’!”

Contrary minded? Is that what it means to vote “No” on the matter?

Not that you have to watch this, but in an interview with Sean Hannity, Mr. Trump accuses the media of fabricating the story, of misleading the public. Assuming the veracity of this claim, wouldn’t that same accusation be true with regard to any politician the media covers, conservative or liberal?

I just don’t see how anyone could vote for Hillary Clinton! She is funded by special interests …

If the popular vote is an indication, chances are there will be slightly more Clinton fans at your Thanksgiving Day Dinner Table than Trump supporters. Don’t choose to sit only with those who aren’t “contrary minded” – that is, with only the folks who agree with you. Take advantage of this one opportunity to mingle in meaningful, perhaps even grateful ways with people who hold different opinions than yours. People in the know are telling us that, from social media to where we choose to live, we are self-selecting to be in places and with people who think like us. We aren’t talking to folks who think differently from us; we are screaming at them.

Perhaps I am partisan in this opinion, but Mr. Trump could learn a lesson or two, if not from the public civility of his opponent in the presidential campaign, than from the man who currently holds the office. Barak Obama is both a model and the instructor when it comes to considering different sides of an argument. That the congress wouldn’t even consider his selection for the Supreme Court  – a candidate considered to be excellent, centrist and fair by any standard – that’s a real example of what Mr. Trump calls “failure” and “foolishness”. I hope our president-elect will experience the benefit of a media that is as relentless as ever it has been in holding his – and all our elected officials’ feet to the fire.

Whether it’s around our turkey-laden Thanksgiving tables next week or around issues of national concern, Time Magazine editor Nancy Gibbs poses the relevant questions: “Do we exploit the passions laid bare by this [election and] make deeper tears in the fabric that holds us together? Or do we look for common ground, and reasons to work together?

I say it is worth the risk of a total Thanksgiving meltdown to attempt to have honest and civil conversation around the table next Thursday. Chances are good that some portion of your gathering will end up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram anyway – gotta love the “media”! Let’s see if we can’t get along with the people who don’t agree with as well as we get along with those who do.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.