8 Ways to Deal With Your Conservative Relatives' Fox News Talking Points
Thanksgiving is a special day when you get to spend time with family you rarely see, including those you might hang out with more often if you actually liked them. Despite the old adage about not discussing politics or religion at the dinner table, you’ll probably hear lots of unsolicited opinions on both, so it’s good to come prepared. Perhaps your right-wing cousin likes the way Donald Trump “shoots from the hip,” or your dad says he read on Facebook that Planned Parenthood used billions of tax dollars to open an abortionplex. You can’t correct every falsehood, but you can offer some facts to counter whatever Fox News has been feeding them.
To help in this valiant endeavor, we’ve created a handy dandy list of a few topics that might come up, from Syrian refugees to Sharia law, along with a few helpful talking points you can use. While we can’t provide the wine—you’ll have to buy that yourself—remember to remain calm and keep your glass full.
Actually, just keep the bottle next to you.
1. A $15 minimum wage will bankrupt businesses and is only for lazy people.
Your nana is a nice lady but she’s wrong about this one. FDR established the minimum wage based on the moral idea that business should not profit by denying its workers livable wages, and he intended the minimum wage to be “more than a bare subsistence level.” Yet it has lagged behind inflation since the late 1960s; had it kept up, the minimum wage would be over $10 nationwide. Raising the minimum wage won’t result in massive layoffs; in fact, history shows it increases consumer spending and actually bolsters the economy, ultimately creating more jobs. In a survey conducted earlier this year, three out of five small-business owners say they support a minimum wage increase, which is saying something. Most of the people who earn minimum wage are heads of households, and they desperately need that money to support their families. If you think that’s not your problem, consider that a number of employees in fast food and big box stores are paid so little they have to depend on some form of public assistance. McDonald’s has even advised its employees to get food stamps instead of raising wages, which seems wrong for a multibillion-dollar corporation. Honestly, $15 doesn’t go as far as it did in your nana’s day and is barely a liveable wage in a lot of cities. But at least it gets workers a little closer.
2. Refugees could potentially be members of ISIS.
No doubt this will be the most popular racist panic thrown about at the table. Fear-mongering that members of ISIS are planning to pose as refugees is all over right-wing media, as is the goofy notion that only Christian refugees should be allowed into the U.S. Here's the first way you respond: Why would ISIS be smart enough to pose as refugees, yet not smart enough to pose as Christian refugees? This makes no sense. Less than 1% of refugees worldwide end up being recommended for settlement. They are vetted by the UN, the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS fraud detection, and national security directors, and Syrians get an extra layer of screening called the "Syrian enhanced review.” The process takes between 18 to 24 months on average. The elaborate federal process aside, there's the moral argument: the refugees are fleeing ISIS, our common enemy—doesn’t it seem an offense to the basic tenets of [insert your relative's religion here] and common decency to bar them from the U.S.? Certainly America is strong enough to stick to its pro-immigrant pedigree in the face of a few terrorists, right?
3. Black Lives Matter is leading to higher crime rates (the Ferguson effect).
So you’ve heard this one a thousand times, even from your old high school classmate on Facebook who you'd never suspected of being a racist. The theory is that somehow “anti-police sentiment” and the Black Lives Matter movement have created a chilling effect preventing police officers from doing their jobs and this has led to higher crime rates. Even Obama’s FBI director, James Comey, who floated this theory, admitted it has no scientific basis, and it’s also been debunked by the American Psychological Association. The woman who popularized it in the Wall Street Journal, Heather Mac Donald, is not a trained criminologist or sociologist; she’s a lawyer at a right-wing think tank who also thinks racial profiling is good for African Americans and campus rape is a "myth." The reality is murder rates are up in some major cities but they had been trending up before Black Lives Matter and are still rock-bottom compared to where they were 30 years ago. Americans are still, by and large, safer than they’ve ever been, and holding bad cops to account should never prevent law enforcement from doing its job.
4. First Muslim majority city council means Sharia law is here.
Your brother just joined a frat and brought home one of his brothers who’s all Islamification-this and Sharia law-that. He’s harping on Hamtramck, Michigan, the first majority Muslim U.S. city that just happens to have recently elected the first Muslim majority city council in America. Tell him that, like the Yemeni, Bosnians and Bangladeshis who’ve settled in Hamtramck over the last decade, America is a nation of immigrants (and people unwillingly brought here!), so unless he speaks Navajo, he too, is relatively new to this land. The tensions that exist between the old Polish community and the multi-ethnic Muslim community mirror those of every arriving group throughout America’s history, from the Germans to the Irish. Hamtramck has been Muslim-majority since 2013, and so far, so good. Also, freedom of religion—which I assume he believes in, as an American—means freedom for everyone to practice their faith, not just Christians. And you may add, there’s no effort to impose Sharia law on anyone, so cool your jets, Biff.
If anything, the willingness of these new Americans to be civically engaged points to a desire to be part of the community. Plus, there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world and they are as diverse as any other group on the planet. You might point out that what’s true for every immigrant group, and for humans in general, is that people are people, and mostly they just want to make the best lives for themselves. Biff might say something about that one organizer who said after the election in Hamtramck, “Today we show the Polish and everybody else that we’re united,” which did happen. But a bunch of other people spoke and said great things, and unless you want everything Donald Trump says to represent the Republican party, then calm the eff down (but maybe be a little more polite about it).
5. Benghazi (a timeless Thanksgiving classic).
This one is simple. You’ll probably get it from your libertarian Uncle Ted who feigns a commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law. Great, ask him to name one crime Hillary Clinton committed, as relates to Benghazi. Not the subsequent investigation, not her email server (which hasn’t been shown to be at all illegal), but the actual events of Sept. 11, 2012. Just one. You’ll be waiting a while, because there aren't any. The reason we know this is because eight House Committees in the GOP still can’t find any evidence of wrongdoing.
6. Bernie Sanders is a communist.
You might want to start by disabusing your Aunt Theresa, who’s on her third—or is it fourth?—highball of any Soviet imagery she’s got in her head. And while you should definitely point out that Bernie is a democratic socialist, not a communist, now is not the time to attempt a nuanced discussion about the differences in economic systems, as that will get you nowhere. Instead, go with something we can all agree on, like the fact that the rich keep getting richer and everyone else keeps getting screwed (choose a nicer word); the middle class is rapidly disappearing; and hardworking Americans, when you adjust for inflation, are making less than they were decades ago.
Bernie Sanders isn’t advocating for some dreary totalitarian government, nor does he want to give the lazy and entitled (I know, but remember who you’re talking to) the newest iPhone and Chanel purses for free. He just thinks having emergency surgery shouldn’t mean you have to forfeit your house or that the cost of your kid’s college shouldn’t send you to the poorhouse. Sanders thinks every American—and here I’m pretty much quoting the man himself—deserves a decent home, a decent job at decent pay, adequate food, clothing and time off from work, a decent retirement after a life of working, a market that isn’t dominated by a few monopolies, and a Wall Street that doesn’t get to ride roughshod over the rest of us. (Stay away from talking about Scandinavia or Europe in general, because again, know thine audience.) Maybe add that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the 40-hour work week, and the fact that 7-year-olds don’t have factory shifts (in this country, anyway) are all pretty socialist when you get down to it.
7. Obama shouldn't have pulled out of Iraq in 2011; he created the ISIS problem.
Your punk cousin who talked about joining the Marines but instead opted for Emory and the Young Republicans will float this one to seem like he’s providing historical context. It goes something like this: By cutting and running from Iraq, Obama created a power vacuum that allowed ISIS to emerge. There’s only one problem: it’s almost entirely bullshit.
While it’s true the CIA and America’s Gulf allies helped fuel radicalism in Syria by arming and funding some sketchy anti-Assad forces over the years, the 2011 pullout of Iraq has nothing to do with the rise of ISIS. The rise of ISIS in Iraq is the product of a number of factors which can all be traced back to the initial invasion in 2003. Obama was simply carrying out Bush’s exit plan, which the Republic of Iraq and the United States—two sovereign nations—signed in good faith in 2008, before Obama was elected. Indeed, Obama’s Secretary of Defense at the time of the pullout, Leon Panetta, attempted to leave behind American troops, but the Iraqi congress refused to grant them immunity, in part due to popular outrage over Chelsea Manning’s Wikileaks disclosures that revealed abuses by American contractors. Immunity for American military and private contractors is a dealbreaker; Obama wasn’t going to subject American men and women to foreign laws, so he didn’t have much of a choice. Bush, and Iraqi popular will, tied his hands long before he set foot in the White House.
Bottom line: If Obama wanted to maintain troops beyond the 2011 deadline, the U.S. would have had to effectively re-invade Iraq and violate whatever remained of international law after the Bush shitshow. This would have snuffed out any legitimacy the Iraqi government had left and no doubt fueled terrorism far worse than what we eventually saw.
8. Ahmed Mohamed (the clock kid) is a fraud.
So, your libertarian Uncle Ted, who reads Richard Dawkins’ Twitter, is spouting off the cockamamie theories he read there: that Ahmed Mohamed, sent by Islamist agents, intentionally caused panic in order to be arrested and thus make the police look stupid; that Ahmed is a “fraud" because he took an existing clock and put it in a new shell, but pretended like he invented clocks (or something); that this was all some elaborate plan so he could ultimately file the $15 million discrimination suit his family has now launched; that maybe he’s a child ISIS fighter.
Calmly explain that Ahmed is a 14-year-old science brain who showed the kind of ingenuity we always claim we want from students in a country falling behind the world in STEM skills; that he wasn’t allowed to contact his family while he was detained, which was a violation of his civil rights; that according to Texas state law Ahmed should’ve been allowed to have an adult present; that a number of teachers at the school say Ahmed often brought in “elaborate gizmos,” so this wasn’t some weirdo move; that police interrogated the poor kid for hours because he kept insisting it was a clock, which, durr, it was. Whether he built the clock from scratch or not, the reaction was over the top, he should not have been arrested, and as an U.S. citizen, he has rights, which, as Americans, we should all support. Oh, and that thing about how Ahmed's dad’s online posts show he’s a 9/11 truther? Posting a controversial video online doesn’t make you a terrorist, it just makes you someone who is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of your religion.