We are a nation divided, and we are antsy about inviting those divisions into our homes, on the nuclear level, as we connect with our families for holiday feasts.
Mostly, it seems, we are nervous about our racist, sexist old uncles.
"America needs Obamacare like Nancy Pelosi needs a Halloween mask!"
We wish they'd go away, letting us enjoy the undercooked poultry and over-sugared ambrosia in some semblance of utopian progressive peace.
But let me tell you why that's a terrible idea, America. Why you need your racist, sexist old uncle.
First, your racist sexist old uncle focuses your anger on the right things. Let's face it: As socially liberal as you are, you will always find some reason to freak the fuck out on your family at the holidays. Holidays are stressful. They cost a lot. The weather sucks. The travel is hard. And at the end of it, there is your mother, offering unconditional love and advice on how to care for her beloved grandchild, your obvious neglect of whom has caused the flu in her, and that's okay, because Nanna has drawn an ice bath with mustard seeds, because that's how the Amish did it, and it was good enough for them, and of course you couldn't know that.
What, you don't like unconditional love?
If it's not your parents, it's your in-laws. Who may be perfectly lovely to you, but have been keenly selected by nature and Darwin's big brain to guarantee maximum shit-loss by your significant other from now until the Mummer's Parade.
If you had no racist, sexist uncle, these perils would be more immediate. The holiday conversation might border on the minutiae of domesticity — your baby is so big! The yams are so big! Would you like to see Dad's photos of our big Cozumel cruise? This ancient pyramid with these trinket-hawking natives is so big!
All the time, there would be no acknowledgement whatsoever of the fateful role in our lives played by Obamacare, Benghazi, Trayvon Martin, FEMA camps, the Fed, and those sorority girls with their silly accusations. You might be forced to acknowledge the gaping canyon of nothingness that stands between you and the alien zephyr of life that animates these blood relations, these strange meat sticks whom society holds up as the biological and ethical raison d'être of your person-ness.
Fuck that. Your racist, sexist uncle is throwing you a lifesaver. Don't let yourself drown in a turbid sea of Updikean suburban malaise. Seek refuge in your racist, sexist uncle's miasma of burped-up Jameson and slutty Italian jokes, the only thing that broke his six-month catatonia after Wife No. 3 went down the shore to Brigantine and never came back.
"What do you call an Italian hooker? A pastatute!"
He is a sacrificial anode, your racist sexist old uncle is. Absent his intervention, we would be pitted and wasted away by the smaller destructive forces of the holiday season.
But beyond the blessed distraction that he provides you in his grace, your racist, sexist uncle makes you a better person, engaging you in an elaborate staged mimesis of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic. For if there is no racist, sexist uncle, then there is no comparative challenge, no middling standard of ugliness, against which to prove your culturally enlightened nature. Without the counterpoint of his rusted-out V8 Firebird with the "NO FAT CHICKS" bumper sticker, your low-emissions Subaru with the "YES WE CAN" magnet is just another car in the jammed-up driveway.
"What do you call two blacks on one bike? ORGANIZED CRIME."
Your racist, sexist uncle is the oval track, and you are the sprinter. Your racist, sexist uncle is the bench-press bar, and you are the lifter. He is the open journal, and you are the pen. You are a master of your fate, of the dictates of racial and gender politeness, only because your other family members can see the reductio ad absurdum of their bigotry in your combed-over foil across the table, sitting there stuffed in a disintegrating Bill Blass dress shirt that Wife No. 2 bought him in the now-defunct Wanamaker's for $8.95.
You sit, a paragon of yoga-loving, organic-banana-mashing-for-the-baby virtue, proving once and for all that, no, Obama is NOT a FUCKING Kenyan, all because he allows you to profess it as he strokes his mustache, the one he calls his "pussy tickler."
How strong is your racist sexist uncle? He is strong like a deceptively named yellow dwarf star, held together by his own gravity, miraculously never collapsing under the internal pressure, keeping us all in his orbit, preventing the rest of us celestial bodies from colliding into each other. If the cost of this is that he tosses off an occasional toxic cloud of gas, or flares up in nobody's particular direction, so be it. We only come around him once every year or so.
Admit it: You envy your racist, sexist old uncle's strength. The tenacity with which he clings to tenuous untruths. His eagerness to ingest your abuse. His ability to say it all, take it all, and afterward, quietly leave your infant child a hundred-dollar bill and a Dave and Buster's gift certificate downstairs, then to leave a six-foot shriek of sheet-metal scratches on the side of your car as he drunkenly pilots his "pussywagon" home.
Why must you love your racist sexist old uncle? Because he can take it, all of it. And so can you.