Politics at Dinner Parties

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Last week I was invited to two dinners.  One was with a fraternity brother who I see now about once a year. He was in town visiting relatives and we were invited over for dinner. The other was with friends I see regularly. Both groups were predominantly Democrats. One dinner was fascinating and the other was a nightmare.

And it all came down to politics.

Dinner # 1 

At the first dinner, Val and I knew only my fraternity brother.  But, he had let me know that one of his relatives was the majority leader of the Colorado Senate Democrats. When we first arrived we spent over an hour introducing ourselves, learning about families, talking about Boulder, watching a huge bobcat in the backyard, and eating local barbecue. Even though I am an appointed Democrat and one of our hosts was an important elected official we did not discuss the President or Colorado politics during the meal.

Dinner #2

At the second dinner, we had not even ordered drinks when one of the guests launched into a tirade about President Trump, Republicans, impeachment, the impending Democratic landslide in the 2018 midterms, and the awfulness of anyone who supports the President or any Republican.

It was boring. We had all heard it before. Frankly, I do not how you can hate your fellow Americans that much.

At the first dinner after we had pushed back our plates, I had the chance to spend a half hour talking to my host about public policy and Democratic politics. We adjourned to the sink and discussed public lands, wildlife conservation, the legislature, and related matters. Others came and went offering comments occasionally. When we discussed the opposite parties, it was explaining differences in policy priorities, and how to get things done in divided government.

At the second dinner party I stayed silent. I dropped my eyes. I checked my phone. I was overtly obvious. As I occasionally glanced around the table, I could tell at least one other person was equally bored with our dinner saboteur.  He was not subtle – eye rolls and a throat cutting gesture.  I asked multiple times if we could talk about something other than politics.

But the speaker kept up the litany of Trump sins. Attempts to shift the conversation over to family and professional developments were short lived.  The speaker kept interrupting to turn everything back to their politics.

Finally, one of the attendees asked me point blank what I thought.  And I gave my usual rendition that followers of JumboTale and my Twitter feed see everyday.  Trump is a symptom of the Democratic party becoming smaller, focused on narrow purity tests, uncompetitive throughout large swaths of the country, and completely devoid of a coherent pro-growth economic policy. This elicited two reactions.  Agreement from some and name calling from the Trump hater.

Hard feelings.  Embarrassed fellow diners. No one’s mind changed.  No public policy meaningfully discussed.

Rules

This is not a partisan problem.  I have had the same two experiences in predominantly Republican gatherings.   At its core the bad dinner party is a problem of narcissism and a lack of civility, not politics. Some people simply cannot imagine that good fellow Americans have a different view from their own view. Worse, that those with other views might occasionally be right. When they encounter a different view they rush to condemn, shame, and monopolize.

So, here are my rules for politics and social gatherings:

  1.  Spend the first hour at least talking about family, friends, business, charity, entertainment, and travel;
  2. If you are going to talk politics even in a homogenous group, physically separate yourself along with others interested in politics; and
  3. If you hate fellow Americans with different political views, leave, go home, and turn on cable news.

Dad served for two years on a destroyer as a junior officer in the US Navy in the 1950s. He told me the wardroom where the officers ate had three forbidden topics: religion, women, and politics.  If you cannot follow my rules, obey the wardroom rules.

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