The reason for the season
War on Christmas is over (If you want it)
A reminder that The Present Age is a reader-supported newsletter. The best way to help out is to purchase a paid subscription, which you can do here:
Welcome back, everyone. Today, as I wrap up my “War on Christmas” series, I’d like to draw attention to the reason for the (pretend attack on the reason for the) season: politics.
Last week, a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll found that more Americans than ever believe that there is a “war on Christmas.” From the summary:
[N]early 4 in 10 (37 percent) Americans now saying that politicians are trying to remove the religious elements of the Holiday season, up from 29 percent in 2013. At the same time, the percent of Americans who “strongly disagree” that there is a war on Christmas has declined from a majority (54 percent) in 2013, to 37 percent today. According to a new national survey from the FDU Poll, this increase is driven by Republicans, Trump supporters, and, surprisingly, Hispanic Americans.
When presented with the statement, “There has been a concerted effort by politicians to take ‘Christ’ out of ‘Christmas,’” just 14% of Biden voters either “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with the premise. Meanwhile, a whopping 71% of Trump voters either “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with it.
This shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. While running for president in both 2016 and 2020, Trump would somewhat regularly claim that Christmas was under attack and that “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store. You can leave ‘happy holidays’ at the corner. … Other religions can do what they want.”
Now, of course, this was a nonsense “promise.” “We’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store”? Really? Every store? Naturally, PolitiFact, the organization that refused to say that Trump broke his promise not to make cuts to Medicare and Social Security because while he tried to do that, Congress prevented him from doing it, gave him a “Promise Kept” for this ludicrous Christmas claim. (Please, guys, either stick with hyper literalism or not, you can’t just hop back and forth between whichever makes your preferred candidate look better, you bunch of Trumpers. I could go on and on about PolitiFact and about how they tried to get me in trouble at my last job because I criticized them on Twitter, but that’s a story for a different day…)
The Present Age is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Was it absolutely ridiculous to run on an “I will bring back Christmas” platform? Yes. Was it a fake solution to an imaginary problem? Also yes. …but did it make for good politics? …sadly, yes once again.
The “saving Christmas” industry is a busy one! Looking at IMDB, the holiday has been saved by dogs, boys, men, Ernest, elves, trees, toys, drones, bears, cops, vampires, Kirk Cameron, Elmo, nutcrackers, and… well, you get the idea. So why not be the politician who saved Christmas?
Trump sure is lucky that the press is so willing to spread his “War on Christmas” propaganda.
I mean, “they never stopped saying ‘Merry Christmas’” in any town. WTF kind of headline was this?
Post national political correspondent Jenna Johnson penned this pro-Trump piece centered around the cries of victimhood from the former president’s supporters.
“We’ve always said ‘Merry Christmas,’ ” said Melissa Cobb, 48, a local hairstylist wearing dangling cross earrings, who voted for President Trump and gathered before the parade with fellow church members and clients in the beauty salon where she works. She added that no one in the town has ever been offended by her saying the phrase.
“It offends me,” she continued, “to see at the stores, where they just do ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings.’ It should be ‘Merry Christmas.’ Put Christ back into Christmas. That’s what it’s supposed to be. . . . I just wish we would all get on the same page.”
Johnson would go on to amplify baseless claims that there was an “erosion of the rights of Christians in the country.”
Roger Barber, a 60-year-old salesman who lives in the next town over and voted for Trump, said he doesn’t think the president can fully stop the erosion of the rights of Christians in the country, but he hopes the president tries “to put the brakes on it.”
“The government, I think, is trying to oppress Christianity with some of the policies that they come up with. They’re trying to oppress it, force people out of what they believe in,” Barber said as he finished up lunch at Hens and Hogs BBQ on Squirrel Hollow Drive. “Like, the cake issue that’s before the Supreme Court right now. The Supreme Court having to decide whether a Christian can bake a cake or not, or has the right to refuse to bake the cake.”
“Whether a Christian can bake a cake or not,” is one hell of a way of saying “Whether Christians don’t have to follow the same nondiscrimination laws as everybody else.”
But there was one telling moment in the piece that I’m happy Johnson kept in there. Just straight-up racism and religious bigotry: that’s what the obsession with demanding everyone wish them a “Merry Christmas” is really all about — even if some Christmas warriors don’t know it.
“We can’t say ‘Christmas,’ because there’s too many Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus, and it offends them,” said Naomi DePriest, a property manager in her mid-50s whose husband farms, over a lunch of fried catfish and ribs at Hens and Hogs. “I think they should keep Christ in Christmas, which is what they said originally, and to heck with anybody that don’t like it. Anybody that’s Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, let them do what they want to do, but don’t criticize those that want to keep Christ in Christmas.”
See that? “Too many Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus.” It’s not about a holiday greeting, it’s about Christian nationalism.
Once you realize that the right-wing demand that everybody says “Merry Christmas” is really just a proxy in their fight against religious freedom, the success of it all should have you worried.
While some people were pointing out the hypocrisy of First Lady Melania Trump’s “Who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations?” statement, which was greeted with a shrug by the very people who shout about the “War on Christmas” (had a Democratic politician or spouse been caught on tape saying this, right-wing media would still be yelling about it and pointing to it as evidence of Democratic hate for the holiday and its celebrants to this day), others understood that this wasn’t ever actually about Christmas at all. It was about the goal of imposing their religious beliefs on others.
The Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and religious zealots both on and off the court are just getting started.
Jonathan Mitchell, a lawyer who helped craft Texas’ six-week ban on abortion (and subject of a disgustingly fawning New York Times profile), along with Adam K. Mortara, laid out their long-term goals for the Supreme Court in an amicus brief they filed with the court arguing not just against Roe, but against Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges, which decriminalized sodomy and granted nationwide marriage equality, respectively:
The news is not as good for those who hope to preserve the court-invented rights to homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage. See Lawrence, 539 U.S. 558; Obergefell 576 U.S. 644. These “rights,” like the right to abortion from Roe, are judicial concoctions, and there is no other source of law that can be invoked to salvage their existence. Mississippi suggests that Obergefell could be defended by invoking the “fundamental right to marry” which is “fundamental as a matter of history and tradition.’” Pet. Br. at 13 (quoting Obergefell, 576 U.S. at 671). But a “fundamental right” must be defined with specificity before assessing whether that right is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” See Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997) (requiring federal courts to employ a “careful description” of conduct or behavior that a litigant alleges to be protected by the Constitution, and forbidding resort to generalizations and abstractions). Otherwise, long-prohibited conduct can be made into a “fundamental right” that is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” so long as a litigant is creative enough to define the “right” at a high enough level of abstraction. The right to marry an opposite-sex spouse is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition”; the right to marry a same-sex spouse obviously is not.
This is not to say that the Court should announce the overruling of Lawrence and Obergefell if it decides to overrule Roe and Casey in this case. But neither should the Court hesitate to write an opinion that leaves those decisions hanging by a thread. Lawrence and Obergefell, while far less hazardous to human life, are as lawless as Roe.
In other words, the religious right is getting very serious about turning back the clock to a time where women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color didn’t have equal rights under the law. And they see nothing wrong with this.
Are all of the 71% of Trump voters who believe there’s a “war on Christmas” on board with the extreme Christian nationalist direction this country is being steered towards? Almost certainly not. Still, when presented with this idea neatly packaged as a debate over whether or not there is sufficient outrage that the check-out clerk at Target wished you a “Happy Holidays” instead of a hearty “Merry Christmas” as you swing through to pick up a bag of kitty litter on your way home from work, they’ll take it. Why? Because it makes them feel like they’re under attack, like they’re the underdogs, like they’re the victims of a culture war and not the bullies who’ve been waging it.
“The ‘War on Christmas’ narrative is appealing because it lets Christians lay a claim to victimhood,” said Dan Cassino, executive director of Farleigh Dickinson’s recent poll and a professor of Government and Politics at the school. “If you’re part of a group that’s been dominant for hundreds of years, movements towards equality tend to feel like discrimination.”
In short, the “War on Christmas” is a good way to get people on the right involved in a movement that ultimately has little to do with holiday greetings and everything to do with making them feel justified in efforts to bully others out of their rights, to claim that they’re only defending their own rights. In 2013, Bill O’Reilly even said as much, arguing that the “War on Christmas” mattered because if we don’t reinforce the idea that we’re a “Christian nation,” that it would lead to “unfettered abortion” and gay marriage! (he also said something similar in 2012) *gasp*
tl;dr: There is no war on Christmas. There just isn’t. There’s a war on actual religious liberty being waged by the right under the guise of a “War on Christmas.”
And on that note, this concludes my “War on Christmas” series. Thank you to everyone who read it, to everyone who subscribed to my newsletter for it. And one last time, let me plug my wife Kayla’s great “The War on Christmas is not real” merch: