Now Dr. Tures,” one of the secretaries at LaGrange College told me as I was heading out for Thanksgiving break. “Don’t talk politics with your family during the break!”
While she certainly means well, and often dispenses sage advice, I will respectively disagree. As a citizen of a functioning republic and local democracy, you should talk about politics with your family, relatives, friends, and even others. Here’s why.
First of all, you should do so because you have that right. If you want to be thankful for something this holiday season, it should be for these rights, especially those enshrined in the Bill of Rights. It’s not that way in many places in the world.
For eleven straight years, freedom has been on the decline worldwide, according to Freedom House, an international organization that monitors human rights. The number of those countries in decline is two or three times larger than those gaining in freedom. Countries with civil liberties and political rights are getting fewer in number, thanks to this trend in populist authoritarianism.
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Even in “partly free” countries, the ability to talk about politics is not always allowed. While visiting Turkey in 2015 (while it was still a semi-democracy, before they became an authoritarian “presidential” system), I visited a college. While I tried to chat politics with the students, they nervously whispered back “We’re not supposed to talk about politics.”
Immediately, a teacher appeared over us, as if by magic. “It is not illegal to talk about politics,” she corrected her students. “But it is not encouraged!” She glared at the students, who shrank back in response.
During that same visit, I went with my group to a media center, where we met a reporter. I asked this young, bespectacled woman whether she was concerned for her safety as she wrote articles critical of the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “I expect to be arrested at any moment” she told me sadly.
An increasing number of students (and professors!) are also turning off and tuning out the news. That’s not a good idea, either. Those trying to criticize the media (from either side) want you to do this — to pay no attention, not discuss, and let them control any talking.
Don’t let them. That’s another way to get your country to shift from undemocratic to democratic. Have a mix of media sources, and listen to multiple ones. You have the freedom to do so, and can change channels or papers or radio stations as well. Others born into this world aren’t so lucky.
But this isn’t just an exercise in democracy. It’s also about developing civil society and building social capital. A family that can talk about issues, respectfully disagree, or agree to disagree, can come together much better than one that sits in uneasy silence, or allows one member to dominate the others. Communication is the key. In fact, those conversations, heartfelt and respectful, may show that across gender, age, and where you live, you may find that you actually agree on some things you thought you disagreed on, because without such discussion, we devolve into stereotyping family members based upon misperceptions.
So enjoy the family, friendship, fellowship and football. But also take the time to talk about the issues that matter in this country. Now, more than ever, is the time to do it. Otherwise, we could turn into one of those authoritarian states where it will be illegal to talk about anything political.
John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JohnTures2.