I am a Hindu, my husband a Jew. So which religious holiday do we celebrate? Why, Christmas, of course!
Every year, we get the obligatory tree and open presents while sipping eggnog and listening to Nat King Cole's Christmas album. Later in the day, we bake shortbread cookies with our (Christian) friends and dine over lamb rogan josh and pulao. In short, we may not celebrate this national holiday in a traditional American way (whatever that means), but we have no trouble doing so, much less saying Merry Christmas.
But in Donald Trump's America, millions of Americans like us who have embraced Christmas voluntarily will become involuntary recruits in his War for Christmas. In the long run that won't save the holiday, it will doom it.
At stop after stop in his multi-state, post-election victory — err "Thank You" — tour, Trump has been reaffirming his pledge that America will stop saying "Happy Holidays" and start saying "Merry Christmas" on his watch. Against a backdrop of gaudily decorated Christmas trees that the Puritans would have surely banned as a pagan custom, he tells his adoring throngs that he's had it with "political correctness." He insists that it's time to end the War on Christmas and reassert America's heritage (that he's hilariously described as "Judeo-Christian," completely innocent of the problem that poses for his project of Christmas revival).
How will Trump accomplish that?
For starters, by borrowing a page from Bill O' Reilly's book and publicly shaming businesses that he deems aren't paying sufficient obeisance to Christmas. (O'Reilly, incidentally, believes that replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" is a part of a "secularist-progressive conspiracy" to advance such nefarious ends as legalization of narcotics, abortion on demand, and euthanasia.) For example, during his campaign, Trump constantly slammed Starbucks for redesigning its cups to emphasize a generic holiday — rather than one with an explicitly Christmas theme. He's even threatened to evict the coffee shop from his hotel and has encouraged his fans to boycott it.
That is bad enough from a man who already has the power to make and break corporate fortunes by naming names. But once in office, Trump will command and control the entire executive machinery to bring truant companies to heel. And he doesn't inspire comfort when he ominously intones things like "America will say Christmas again — I can tell you that much." Will he unleash IRS inspectors to harass Starbucks? Issue citations for OSHA violations? The possibilities for persecution are endless.
Just to be clear, O'Reilly and Trump might be hysterical, but it is also the case that progressives haven't exactly helped matters by trying to purge every last nativity scene from the public square as a violation of the separation of church and state. That may or may not be true (the Supreme Court was a little muddled about that in the 1989 County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union), but the real purpose of the First Amendment (as the rest of the Bill of Rights) is to stop majoritarian oppression — not expression. It is inevitable that the majority's customs, habits, and observances will exert more influence on a culture than minority ones. But the trick is to limit the majority's undue incursions that seek to delegitimize minority religions, not try and turn public spaces into "religion free zones." Genuine tolerance and pluralism means allowing as many religions as possible to express themselves, not driving all of them behind closed doors.
A more Solomonic leader than Trump might have made common cause with other faiths that similarly want space to unapologetically practice their faith free from secular tsk-tsking. But Trump's misguided pledge to Make America Say Merry Christmas Again sounds like he wants to turn Christians from being victims to victimizers. It is a bellicose assertion of Christianity whose real purpose seems to be to remind minorities whose turf they're on. How would a Jewish establishment that considers Christmas something of an affront fare in such as America? Or a Muslim storeowner who celebrates Ramadan over Christmas? Or, for that matter, an austere and puritanical Christian that has a theological objection to Christmas? Would they all be forced to say Merry Christmas to prove their fidelity to the majority?
This won't de-escalate the culture wars but ramp them up with religious minorities forced ever more into progressive arms for protection through courts and lawsuits. It'll also force millions of folks, like my husband and me, who aren't super religious and therefore happy to embrace the cultural default to reexamine whether we are now aiding and abetting a dangerous form of majoritarianism. Innocent and unconscious observances will become thoroughly politicized. And folks who feel like they are being forced to comply with a new pro-Christian regime will inevitably develop forms of passive resistance. This will generate anti-Christmas subversion — not a sincere celebration.
So let's pray to God to knock some sense into Trump's head and call off his misguided and ham-handed crusade.
And with that hope, Merry Christmas to you all.