Why You Should Watch The First Presidential Debate With Your Parents

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders stand before the Democratic Debate in Flint, Michigan, March 6, 2016. / AFP / Geoff Robins (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Not everyone loves to get into the thick of the presidential race with their loved ones. For some, talking about politics with the family may conjure up images of Thanksgiving dinners gone awry. There’s a reason why “Drunk Uncle” was such a popular Saturday Night Live character, because, as millennials, we all probably have that one relative who, between swigs of Coors Light, starts slurred sentences with, “well back in my day,” followed by something about why Colin Kaepernick is a Commie.

Drunk uncles aside, there’s no reason why political conversation can’t be enlightening and respectful, and produce healthy, intelligent debate. Even in 2016, the year in which BrainDead, a TV show about alien bugs that cause politicians to become deeply polarized and politically combative, seems more documentary than sci-fi.

Some of us have plenty of political common ground with our parents. My dad and I text as much commentary back and forth during debates as we did during last year’s World Series (#LGM). We obviously don’t agree on everything, but for the most part, we go together like Michelle Obama and sleeveless dresses.

Others don’t quite see eye-to-eye, like the political relationship I have with my grandparents. They say that they are not enthusiastic about either candidate, but will be casting their votes for Donald Trump. My grandfather, who worked in commercial construction in Manhattan for decades, alleges that Trump still owes him money from the ‘80s. And he will still vote for the man. That’s how much they dislike Hillary Clinton.

It’s easy to talk to my dad about politics, because I usually know he will agree with whatever I’m going to say. But he is also the one who taught me to consume all viewpoints, not just the ones you agree with. I always took that advice as part due diligence, part “know thy enemy,” but whatever the motivation it has proved formative in the development of my political opinions. And it’s what led me to have an uncomfortable, yet eye-opening conversation with my grandparents about this presidential election. They wanted to know what millennials thought about the race, a viewpoint they are fairly insulated from. I wanted to know what about Hillary Clinton they hated so much. We each learned things from the other that were unexpected, that we each probably haven’t accepted as truth, but that we are both better for hearing.

We tend to surround ourselves, whether consciously or not, with people whose political views align with ours. Even if you interact with a socially and demographically diverse group of people, frequent, frank discussions with people from the other side of the aisle is missing in many if our lives. That entrenchment just makes partisan hatred grow. It’s why millennials have more empathy for a murderous wizard than for the two current presidential candidates. That's right, a July poll from NextGen Climate found Lord Voldemort had higher favorability among millennials than either Clinton or Trump.

Whether you and your parents identify with the same party or not, watching the debate with them could open your eyes to a viewpoint you haven't considered yet. Presidential elections are not (or should not) be a single-issue race. As the generational differences between Bernie Sanders and Clinton backers showed, there is a gap in how even younger and older Democrats think about this election. A report from the Brookings Institute noted, "The youngest adult millennials, those between 18 and 29 years of age, have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in Democratic primaries in states across the country by margins of 3 or 4 to 1." Thus, even if you and your family all belong to the same party, there are bound to be some disagreements on various issues.

You each have something to learn from each other. If you are a "Bernie or Bust"-er and think the right thing to do is not cast a vote for either candidate, or vote third-party, your parents might be able to provide some historical context as to why that might be a bad idea.

If you are a young Republican, and your parents can’t figure you out, you can share why you think Trump is the one to “make America great again,” and why his platform resonates with you.

If your parents don’t think that free college or new minimum wage regulations are necessary, deserved or feasible, as a millennial you may have insight in to why these issues polled of such high importance.

If you can’t understand how on earth any woman would choose to support Trump, maybe your Republican mom could provide perspective as to why she is choosing to vote for him.

Politics is about ideology, not dogma. It should be collaborative, not divisive. It’s ok to listen to other points of view. It’s even ok to change your point of view. You need to figure out for yourself what is important to you as a voter, and then find the party that best fits those views, not make yourself fit a partisan script. And maybe viewing the debates with your parents is a way to start figuring that out.

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