NASHVILLE — “I think you should write an article about me,” my father-in-law said last year, a startling statement for a man so private he abandoned Facebook once his friend list swelled to 27 people, even though at least half of them were his own children and grandchildren.
“What should I write?” I asked.
“Write about how you still love me even though I support President Trump.”
I laughed. Of course I still love him. There was never any question about that. But a new study in the journal Science suggests how complicated love can be in a time of political upheaval. Combining cellphone data and voting results, researchers found that Thanksgiving gatherings in 2016 were significantly shorter in areas where travelers crossed partisan lines than they were in the rest of the country. The divisiveness of the last presidential election cost American families 74 million hours of Thanksgiving.
My father-in-law joins us for supper several times a week, not just for Thanksgiving, and he lives in the same ZIP code, so no cellphone analysis would ever pick up the fact that political conversations can get pretty hot at our supper table, thanks to the divide this study observed.
To me, the election of Donald Trump felt like a death in the family. I couldn’t sleep. I found it hard to focus at work. I was barely a click away from wailing and rending my garments. And every attempt my father-in-law made to explain the new president’s behavior just made me want to yank up his plate and dump it on his head. But people are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done, as Sister Helen Prejean often says of death-row inmates, and since the election I’ve been trying hard to remember that people are also more than their political opinions.
With my beloved father-in-law, though, it isn’t hard to remember that truth at all. This is a man who grew up during the Depression, raised by a single mother in the home of his grandparents, Irish Catholic immigrants. In the small-town South of the…