My Toxic Thanksgiving
(Name Withheld by Request)
“Toxicity” and “toxic” are overused words in contemporary parlance. When not employed for literal purposes (e.g., “This snake’s venom is highly toxic”), such phraseology is often, to some degree, manipulative and dishonest, since it tells rather than shows. (e.g.,“So-and-so’s misogyny is positively toxic,” which translates to YOU MUST HATE SO-AND-SO BECAUSE I DECLARE HIM BEYOND THE PALE AND HOW DARE YOU THINK IT MIGHT BE OTHERWISE; YOU HORRENDOUSLY ABHORRENT TOXIC MONSTER FULL OF TOXIC TOXICITY!!!)
Nevertheless, I think that one may well declare the current state of discourse “toxic,” given that at least one major media publication told its readership that it was in fact incumbent upon all right-thinking,non-deplorable people to be openly rude, hostile and obstreperous on Thanksgiving (i.e., a holiday ostensibly intended to promote love and togetherness) to relatives who voted for Trump (i.e., roughly half the country). Nor were such– well, toxic—suggestions made in a cultural vacuum.
In fact, much of the anti-Trump Left, as well as much of the pro-Establishment Right, has become patently unmoored from reason over the course of the last year or so. Hateful invective is now commonplace amongst this demographic and their public representatives. Quite unironic online encouragements to commit murder, terror, and savagery are frequently met, not with indignant gasps of protestation and bewilderment, but rather with raucous, lusty cheers from a virtual peanut gallery afflicted with a truly frightening collective bloodlust.
There seems to be no stopping the insidious momentum of this escalating and ongoing lynch mob/witch hunt. The entire enterprise is breathtakingly dehumanizing at its core. It assumes that the “enemy” has deliberately forfeited his humanity and thus deserves to be made the brunt of a campaign of terror, including actual physical violence. The inherent ramifications are deeply unnerving, but no one swept up in the hysteria seems to know, or care.
I thought that I, anyway, would surely be safe from having to endure any such wearisome Thanksgiving travails.
True, the people with whom I was spending the holiday were a large group of ‘card-carrying’ liberal Democrats, whom I’m nearly positive unanimously voted for Hillary Clinton. And of course, in the eyes of the opinion-shapers at large, I am no mere “normie” Trump-voter, but rather a full-fledged toxically toxic white supremacist alt-right hateful extremist (or so say the opinion-shapers at large), with a long public track record of intractable badthink… I knew for a fact that many of this group were aware of my writings, but such had been the case for years. I had grown up with these people; at one time, in my youth, the then-kids of the family and I had hung out regularly. Though I barely saw most of them anymore, other than annually at Thanksgiving gatherings, they remain sort of like family, being close friends of direct relatives of mine.
Generally speaking, they are nice enough folk, though we have little in common. So I felt relatively secure that, even if some of these people wouldn’t regard me with great warmth, they would still agree to tolerate my company, munch turkey and mashed potatoes in my presence, engage in occasional harmless little conversations with me, watch football games on TV in my company, and do all the other typical modern-day American Thanksgiving-type stuff while I benignly dwelt in their midst. I figured, that is, that they would “put up” with me, even if they were inwardly holding their noses with their Hillary-voting fingers.
And in general, I was right. They were willing to tolerate my probably undesirable presence with equanimity, and for that I am sincerely grateful.
However, one mammoth exception to this rule also occurred, one which proved to be so egregious that I am still, frankly, a bit stunned, days later.
This stun-inducing moment happened just before the meal. Traditionally, this time, while not exactly a prayer, is meant to be “prayerful” shared occasion, in which the assembled stand in a circle and hold hands while a brief speech of thanksgiving is given (I always inwardly roll my eyes at this, being an inveterate non-touchy-feely non-cornball, but I play a good sport nevertheless, seeing as how I see most of these people only once a year.)
In years past, the thoughts expressed by the family patriarch, who typically presides over the gathering, has been entirely anodyne, if mawkish: We are all together again; we are blessed to be able to get together again; everyone that we love is gathered in one place, etc., now let’s eat!
This time, however, the patriarch’s message proved to be a radical departure from years past. I will sum it up here, from memory. It ran something like this:
“This year, all of us have been on life’s journey, and we have made choices along the way. Some of us have made good choices, and others of us have made bad choices… We have a president now who is unleashing hatred upon this country. Things are really awful right now. Things weren’t like this last year at this time, with the president we had then… I really hope that we can get rid of this president soon… Some of us have said things or written things that maybe we shouldn’t have said or written, and maybe we should think about that… Happy Thanksgiving.”
While speaking, the patriarch’s tone grew increasingly tremulous and aggrieved; for all of his anger, I could have sworn he was on the verge of tears. And there I was, the one who had supposedly “made bad choices,” who ostensibly “wrote things I shouldn’t have written,” holding hands in a putative “love circle” whilst getting his character impugned, quite humiliatingly. This bristling Thanksgiving jeremiad lurched towards its scathing denouement. Though I was never mentioned by name, I was clearly the target of his disapproval. The patriarch knew it, I knew it, and everyone else present knew it, too.
Afterwards, I dropped the hands of those next to me and blinked with shock. Others flocked to feed their faces, but I staggered away to the bathroom, where I stood there for a good five minutes, fully absorbing the effect of this holiday takedown. It all seemed inexplicable, for a number of reasons.
Here, after all, was a man who had been a kind of “uncle-figure” to me growing up—a sweet, funny, self-effacing teddy bear of a guy who didn’t usually care for politics. He was not a vindictive person. How, then, did he feel justified in engaging in this kind of grotesque rhetorical indulgence, whereby a moment of giving thanks and reveling in togetherness was transmogrified into an occasion for a cathartic airing of grievances against a “wrongthinker”in his midst? How did he think it was okay to attack me at such a moment, and to effectively forbid me to respond to defend myself, since me putting up any defense would effectively ruin the holiday time for everyone, and make it seem like I was being petty and defensive? In short, how could a good-hearted man behave in so despicable a manner? And how did the others in attendance—regardless of their political views—see fit to let this despicable behavior simply slide?
If he so disapproved of my behavior (for whatever actual believed transgressions I had committed beyond his vaguely censorious insinuations—“bad choices,” “things I shouldn’t have written”—then why had he not called or written me, as an honorable man would, instead of ambushing me with shaming invective in front of everyone else at a time supposedly set aside for the expression of collective gratitude and good will?
In some ways, I admit that I am at a loss to answer these questions. (I refrained from confronting him afterwards in any way, for the sake of preserving harmony, and also because I just didn’t really see the point.) It would seem that we have truly arrived at an age in which Dostoyevski and demonism is afoot, where psychic terror reigns, where formerly reasonable people are increasingly being transformed into something frankly unrecognizable.
So much for the spirit of Thanksgiving.
God only knows what will happen to Christmas.