Democracy Lives In Darkness review: how to take politics off the holiday dinner table – The Guardian

Democracy Lives In Darkness review: how to take politics off the holiday dinner table – The Guardian

In 2015, Saturday Night Live spoofed the rancorous political arguments besieging American social life.

Cast members seated around a dining table to celebrate Thanksgiving passed the side dishes and threw invective. The verbal heat rose and rose until a young girl pressed play on a cassette player and the Adele song Hello washed over the room. The combatants instantly ceased fire and began lip-synching the lyrics. Their rapture escalated until they physically entered a re-creation of the music video.

A Thanksgiving Miracle aired before the Trump presidency and its violent subversive conclusion. This holiday season, it’s hard to think of a song capable of transporting Americans into a state of blissful unity. Masks and vaccines have become an issue and assault weapons have cropped up as accessories on congressional Christmas cards. But there is an alternative to mutually assured bad-mouthing. Americans can meet clandestinely among the like-minded, not just to commiserate but also to plan and participate in election campaigns.

A Thanksgiving Miracle, by SNL.

Emily Van Duyn, a political communications scholar, embedded with one such group in Texas in 2017. Her book chronicles the journey of 136 liberal women living in a rural and thus predominantly conservative Texas town who, determined to resist Trump, organized themselves into what Van Duyn anonymizes as the Community Women’s Group (CWG).

They were middle-aged and senior white women (save one who was Black), afraid to speak their minds and put up yard signs. The author interviewed 24 of them multiple times, attended their monthly meetings on a dozen occasions, and examined meeting minutes from November 2016, when they were in tears and shock, until December 2020, at which point their politicking had yielded higher vote totals for Democrats in the previous month’s election, though not enough to prevail anywhere on the ballot.

Van Duyn also conducted a national and statewide survey in 2018, from which she concluded that more than one in five American adults felt the need to hide their politics, and just under one in 10 operated in similarly self-obscured conversational settings.

The study explains how social, geographic and political causes shaped the communication practices of the CWG.

“[T]he growing animosity between and within parties, the uncertainty about truth, the growing intersectional animosity around ideology, race, class, and gender, made for a political context that was not only unpleasant but risky.”

Trump palpably threatened their sense of security as women. Locally, they feared ostracization, loss of business (especially the real estate agents), defacement of property and being run off the road by men in trucks with guns who noticed liberal bumper-stickers, as happened at least once and was talked about often.

Van Duyn excels at detailing the evolution of CWG’s communications practices, a mix of private and public facing activities conducted through physical as well as digital channels. Many members had grown up deferring to men about matters political. But a week after Trump’s victory one of them sent an email to eight neighbors: “I would like to …….


Van life