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Long Island

At Thanksgiving, Long Island families nix politics at dinner table

Some families are using bans and conversation starters to avoid political divisions. Others are tackling tricky subjects head-on.

Andrea Walsh has carefully considered her family’s thanksgiving feast: Turkey? Check. Ham? Check.

But this year, she’s added something new: conversation starters clipped from a magazine, intended to keep the tone light.

Like many Long Island families, Walsh is grappling with a new reality where seemingly everything is political, turning what was once friendly banter into a minefield at holiday gatherings. For some families, that has meant making new rules or abandoning old ones in order to keep the peace at the dinner table.

Nearly a third of Americans are dreading the topic of politics at their Thanksgiving meal, according to a new poll. A recent study from researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and Washington State University found that Americans left their 2016 Thanksgiving gatherings an average 20 to 30 minutes early — and shortened them by as much as an hour in political battleground states — as a result of political divides.

“We made a family commitment last year that we wouldn’t talk about politics,” Walsh, 56, of Miller Place, said. “It’s unprecedented.”

Walsh said her family gathering of about 13 people always had differing views. However, Trump’s election brought stronger feelings, leading to a politics ban in 2016. This year, they’re keeping the ban in place, instead opting for topics like “Who’s the funniest at the dinner table?” and “Who would make the best news anchor?”

In Great Neck, even the question of what they’re thankful for is too risky for the Marzouk family. Sally and Ben Marzouk have been married for 30 years and long disagreed on politics — he’s always leaned right and she’s a lifelong Democrat, with a politically diverse family between them.

This year’s politics ban, the second ever for the family, is meant to keep the peace.

“Some of us are political just by nature,” said Sally Marzouk, 58, who works in marketing. “I don’t leave that to chance at all.”

Not every family is so divided, however. Christopher Kostulias, 18, of Mineola, said the election brought a kind of unity to his family’s gatherings. His family is conservative and while they don’t agree on every issue, Kostulias said they did share a sense of satisfaction that Trump had been elected.

“I don’t remember any other politically significant events that got my family’s attention like the 2016 election,” said Kostulias.

And for some families, it’s more important the conversations flow freely.

For Noret Bazemore, 45, of South Freeport, politics isn’t divisive, just a bigger topic of conversation than it used to be, including for her two children.

“We keep it light but it’s interesting to hear my 15-year-old and 8-year-old have such concrete ideas,” said Bazemore, a cake designer.

Joy Lai, 37, a teacher from Sea Cliff, said she has been encouraging her family to not only talk to each other, but learn how best to do it. Many of her family members lean left, though some do not. For some of her cousins, 2016 marked their entry into political discussions.

“Let’s not say don’t talk politics, we need to be talking. How are we ever going to heal?” she said.

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