(RNS) — For almost as long as he’s been wearing that red hat, President Trump has been promising his evangelical base that he would singlehandedly restore the words “Merry Christmas” to America.
His recent remarks during October’s Values Voter Summit in Washington sum up the talking point.
They don't use the word "Christmas" because it's not politically correct. You go to department stores, and they'll say "Happy New Year" and they'll say other things. And it will be red, they'll have it painted, but they don't say it. Well, guess what? We're saying “Merry Christmas” again.
"They," of course, refers to liberals who Trump's evangelical supporters believe are imposing political correctness on everyone else.
Fast forward a few weeks to last night’s Christmas tree lighting at the White House, where Trump seized the occasion to remind everyone of his promise. I wasn’t at first sure what he was doing so I’m going to relay my thought process as my disgust unfolded.
Trump: Today is a day that I’ve been looking very much forward to …
(Me: OK, OK, this is fine …)
Trump: … all year long.
(Me: Same, Mr. President! I love Christmas trees! Light it UP!)
Trump: It is one that we have heard …
(Me: LIGHT IT! LIGHT IT! LIGHT IT!)
Trump: … and we speak about and we dream about.
Trump: Now, as president of the United States …
(Me: wondering if this is about a Christmas tree)
Trump: … it’s my tremendous honor to finally …
(Me: Time to change the channel)
When Trump tweeted out the video of his remarks from his personal account, he capitalized the words ALL YEAR LONG, as if to remind everyone that he’s been promising them this victory for a while.
Trump, according to Trump, is the reason for the season.
Trump’s rendition of “Merry Christmas” may possibly be one of the most un-merry sounding wishes you’ve ever heard. Probably because it doesn’t sound like he means “Merry Christmas” as much as he means “Make America Great Again, all you Jews and atheists and liberals, Make America Great Again! (Gays, you are fine for now: thanks for Melania’s decorations and fabulous shoes.)”[ad number=“1”]
There’s an irony here that shouldn’t go overlooked. Trump has turned “Merry Christmas” into a political bludgeon to win a rhetorical war against the very people that he believes have been using the phrase “Happy Holidays” … as a political bludgeon. In other words, even though “Happy Holidays,” we were told, was supposed to be a calculated term intended to Make A Point, “Merry Christmas” now functions the exact same way.
But that’s just the frame of our president’s Christmas message.
Now for the content.
The story of Christmas, Trump reminds us, begins 2,000 years ago with “the most extraordinary gift of all: the gift of God’s love for all of humanity.” He then echoed the admission that all humans possess an inherent dignity by claiming that “each one of us is a child of God.”
I’m on board with that, but is he? Does the president really believe God’s love extends to “total clowns,” journalists who are “dumb as rocks” and “uncomfortable looking,” “dopes,” “slobs,” women with “fat, ugly faces,” fat people in general, Crooked Hillary, “Pocahontas,” Rosie O’Donnell, the mainstream media, women whose genitals he feels entitled to grab, “bimbo” Megyn Kelly, people with disabilities, Little Rocket Man, the Broadway cast of "Hamilton," NFL players, James Comey … (We need to move on but you can find a very detailed list of all the people our President has publicly mocked here.)
The point is that if Trump truly believes that each human is a child of God, then why all the insults? If he’s going to make a political career out of punching his opponents 10 times harder than they hit him, then he really needs to take a pass on discussing overtly Christian beliefs like God’s love and human dignity. Just stick to Rudolph and candy canes and Frosty and the Grinch.
Actually, nope, scratch the Grinch reference: The timing’s all wrong given his latest tax proposal, which mostly benefits the richest Americans by eliminating the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. Not that I don’t get why Trump would want to cut those. In 2005, for example, the second tax cost him $31 million. Without that tax, he could’ve gotten off with paying just $7 million on his $153 million income.
That’s why his line “the real spirit of Christmas is not what we have” fell flat. Because he has so much. When he says things like that, average Americans hear, “We’re the same, you and I. Except for the billions of dollars.” I’m also not entirely sure that Trump thinks Christmas isn’t actually about money. Earlier this week, in St. Charles, Mo., while announcing victory in the War on Christmas, Trump told supporters, “We are going to be celebrating ‘Merry Christmas’ again, and it’s going to be done with a big, beautiful tax cut.”
It is possible the fake news misreported his real words, which might have been, “We are going to be celebrating ‘Merry Christmas’ again, and it’s going to be done with, actually, never mind, I’m just gonna leave it at that.”
It was also very weird to hear Trump say at the tree lighting, “Whatever our beliefs, we know that the birth of Jesus Christ and the story of this incredible life forever changed the course of human history.” Of course, he’s right to note the enormous influence Christianity has held and continues to hold throughout much of the world for the last two millennia. But given Trump’s weaponization of “Merry Christmas,” I couldn’t but hear a tinge of triumphalism in those words. New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo summed it up well on Twitter: “Whatever our beliefs, we believe in Jesus.”
I, for one, am very disheartened by all of this politicization of a really great holiday — which is, someone should explain to Trump, a very religious word (holiday = holy day = mind blown). Wishing America a Merry Christmas should have been an easy thing for our president to do. He literally just had to say, "Merry Christmas." Like, that's it. That is literally it. But Trump, again, never one to gracefully step onto the high road lying wide open at his feet, found a way to plunge down to the muddy path several stories below him where Krampus was waiting.
How I long for the days when the War on Christmas was a fiction.
(Brandon Ambrosino is a writer and dancer based in Delaware. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service)