Lumps in the Gravy
Ah, the holidays. A time to listen to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” a minimum of 20 times a day, spend hours at the outlets just to find a parking space, and of course, spend time with your family. Why do we do this, again?
I recently spent some quality time with my biological family, and like many people I know, I come from a “politically divided family.” Most of my family of origin get most of their news from the Fox News Channel, which seems to exist in the background of nearly every family visit, whether anyone happens to be watching or not. When I’m there, I do my best to avert my gaze. Every once in a while, I will switch the channel to CNN to see if anyone will notice. (No one ever says anything, but the channel is routinely turned back to Fox News the next time I look up.)
Most of the time, we avoid politics as a discussion point. This year, however, the conversation turned to politics a few times. One member of my family, let’s just call him “Uncle Joe,” seemed particularly keen to enlighten me on a number of points.
Right off the bat, he informed me that Confederate flags have nothing to do with “the Blacks” at all, but are just expressions of Southern Pride, and if “the Blacks” don’t like them, then they should stop flying flags that say divisive things like “Black Lives Matter.” Furthermore, the insurrection on January 6 was no big deal because you should see what the liberals have done to downtown Seattle.
This is a common tactic of Uncle Joe’s, and a logical fallacy known as Whataboutism. It matters little that the Confederate Battle Flag was originally flown by a pro-slavery movement waging war against the United States, or that the conservative mob on January 6 was attempting to overturn a presidential election on the orders of a sitting US president. These other things were worse because he wanted them to be worse, and his desires had been confirmed by men wearing suits and ties on a 24-hour channel with the word “News” in its name.
Later, in the evening, I learned that kindergarteners in blue states are shown videos that teach them how to masturbate, and that Merrick Garland had placed parents in red states who lobbied their school boards on a terror watch list.
I was dubious, but it’s difficult to prove a negative, so I simply said, “I doubt that happened.” But no, I was assured that it had happened, and Uncle Joe had seen it. “You’ve seen kindergarteners being taught how to masturbate?” I asked. And apparently, he had.
Later that night, as I settled into bed, I did a little internet searching on my phone. I did so with an open mind, looking for any grain of truth in the wild stories I’d heard earlier. There, I discovered that a very expensive private school in Manhattan once showed a video to kindergarteners that assured them that touching your own private parts was normal, but you shouldn’t let anyone else do it.
I also learned that a school board had once reached out to Attorney General Garland to ask if parents who openly threaten school board members shouldn’t be placed on some kind of list, and that Mr. Garland had assured parents that all credible threats of violence would be followed up on. But no, as of this date, no one has been placed on a terror watch list after voicing an opinion, no matter how heatedly, at a school board meeting.
Reading further, I learned that Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader at the time, appeared on Fox News Sunday on April 17, 2022, and said that a Republican majority in Congress would be “able to stand up to an attorney general who goes after parents and calls them terrorists if they want to go to a school board meeting.” I could find no evidence that Mr. McCarthy was corrected in the moment or that Fox News ever provided its audience with a fact check later on.
I’m not writing this so that you’ll hate my Uncle Joe. I don’t hate my Uncle Joe. I’ve seen firsthand how kind he can be, when we’re not debating things he’s heard on the news. My Uncle Joe isn’t a terrible person; he’s just wrong about a lot of stuff. Unfortunately, his wrongness is bolstered by people who lie to him. He believes the lies a little too eagerly, perhaps, but when I consider my Uncle Joe from a distance, I’m not angry so much as sad to think about all the gaslighting he’s endured.
I get angrier when I think about the ones doing the lying. And other than an FCC with real power, I don’t have any grand solutions to offer the country on the ways we’re so divided these days. The only advice I have to offer after my last trip home is to save some time for your family of choice this year and remember that no one is morally required to debate their Uncle Joe at their next family gathering. Also, whisk the flour into the gravy a little at a time to prevent lumps.
Happy holidays, everyone. ▼
Eric Peterson is a diversity and inclusion practitioner. His first novel (Loyalty, Love & Vermouth) is available online and at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach. His podcast, The Rewind Project, is available wherever you listen to podcasts.