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Kent Bernhardt: Merry Christmas – and have a dinner roll

’Tis’ the season for those holiday family gatherings, and that means lots of time for uncomfortable conversations with relatives you rarely see.

Since all of us seem hell bent to discuss politics whether we know anything about it or not, I thought I’d offer a few pointers for the novices in the arena who dream of successfully hijacking a political tirade and making it their own.

These pointers are all found in my new book “The Elephant — or Donkey — In the Room,” and are taken from chapter seven, “The Stench Who Stole Christmas.”

Begin with the unwavering truth that you are right about everything.

You’ve spent a lifetime reading all the right books. Your ready supply of political factoids comes from the “correct” pipelines, and you watch and listen only to the “true” news from legitimate sources like “onlythetruenews.com”

Your credentials as a political expert are impeccable, and your family should’ve realized that by now.

You’ve exhaustively rehearsed your debate delivery in the car while stuck in traffic, and you’re ready to combat anyone at the Christmas dinner table who dares to cross your political line.

You’ve spent all year getting ready for this one moment; the moment when someone will unwittingly bring up politics by saying something innocuous like, “Yes, I’d like a liberal amount of gravy on my mashed potatoes,” or “Just a conservative slice of pie please.”

You clear your throat, and your voice is about to slice the air with the truth and nothing but the truth. And here’s what you do next:

Stuff a dinner roll in your mouth. A big one. Follow it with a second or third if necessary.

As your mouth is processing the sudden invasion of wheat and yeast, your brain will have time to process a little more truth:
That life, especially this day, isn’t about politics, votes, or agendas. It’s about the people gathered at this table who knew and loved you long before you became such a windbag.

They still love you, but they’re suddenly happy that you have five dinner rolls crammed in your mouth, and it’s quieter in the room.

So, the most effective way to discuss politics at the Christmas dinner table is — don’t. It never ends well, and it’s not what defines who and what we are anyway.

The people who serve at our discretion on the federal, state, and local level come and go like waves on the seashore. One moment they’re far out at sea. The next moment, they’re crashing into our sand castles and rushing up our noses through sheer force. And suddenly, they’re gone, just part of the vast ocean once again.

Each subject of a political discussion won’t be that subject in a few years. Are any of us still talking about the merits of Michael Dukakis?

Furthermore, in our 242 year history, we’ve struggled with many of the same problems. We won’t solve those over Christmas dinner no matter how well versed we think we are or think our favorite politician is.

The problem we struggle with most is how to treat each other with simple dignity and respect. Let’s vow to spend this Christmas in celebration of the tiny infant who can teach us the most about that.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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