Donald Trump’s pathological lying knows no bounds. He even lies about Christmas. Since the summer he has been telling the bobblehead crowds at his rallies that he “will bring Christmas back.” And last month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke introduced Trump as “the man who brought Christmas back to America.”
Let’s be clear here: Christmas never went anywhere, never left. It was here last year and decades and decades before last year, and it will be here next year and decades and decades after next year. Anyone who claims that Christmas “left” is seriously deranged.
What’s going on is beyond pathetic. Thousands of refugee children remain in ICE custody, separated from their parents. One seven-year-old recently died of dehydration while in ICE custody, and in a shameless display of callousness, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blames the child and her family. And in the face of this, Trump and his minions are “bragging” about “bringing Christmas back.” Surely there is a special place in Hell for these folks.
Bad dream keeps coming back…
The “bring Christmas back” nonsense is like a recurring bad dream. It’s rooted in the mid-2000s, when right-wingers were up in arms because stores like Wal-Mart used “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” in their ads and in their greetings. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and others such as the National Clergy Council, American Family Association, Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel, and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club were outraged and through some perverted logic transformed the “Happy Holidays” thing into a “war against Christmas” and called for a boycott of businesses that use “Happy Holidays.”
I’ve always believed that the “war on Christmas” campaign was conjured up as a fund-raising vehicle for the right-wing fanatics. For sure, it has no theological foundation. “Holiday” derives from “holy day” and is not irreligious. During a 2005 CNN interview, William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, was asked if he thought Jesus would be okay with people saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” to which he responded, “Maybe he would, but I’ve never met him.”
Perhaps Donohue has never met Jesus because he’s looking in the wrong places: hate radio programs on which Donohue is a regular. He might try looking in the Gospels. I’m pretty sure Jesus is in there.
Back in the day…
When I was growing up, the religious community would rail against the commercialization of Christmas. Their message was clear: Keep Christmas in the churches and out of the stores. And now we have supposed Christian groups politicizing Christmas and insisting that Christmas be brought into the stores.
Christmas was simple and apolitical when I was growing up in Barrio Hollywood on Tucson’s west side in the 1950s and early `60s. The emphasis of the season was on family and church.
Barrio Hollywood is a working-class neighborhood. We weren’t dirt poor, but we surely weren’t rich either. For the most part, Hollywood parents didn’t indulge in spending orgies. Many of us received only one gift. The streets were unpaved and there were no sidewalks, so asking for roller skates (this was way before skateboards) or other things with wheels was pointless. In school or at Catechism class, usually kids would make a wreath to hang at home, and some of us more larcenous types would purloin flowers from various barrio gardens and make a bouquet for our moms.
Everything culminated on Christmas Eve. Families would make tamales and then go to Midnight church services, the highlight of the day. The streets of Barrio Hollywood were alive with families walking to and from church. It was almost like being downtown on Saturday mornings. All the neighbors visited as they walked to church and then back home afterwards. The air resonated with saludos (greetings), chatter, and the occasional song. Along the way people would admire the Nacimientos (Nativity scenes) that graced many front yards. This scenario, or variations of it, played out in most of the barrios in the Tucson of those days. It’s still that way in most communities.
The perversion of Christian teachings…
True Christians—those who actually believe and try to practice the teachings of Christ—should be appalled at how Trump and his gang of pseudo-Christians are politicizing Christmas and perverting the social teachings of Christianity.
Christianity values family. Yet the Trump policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border is virulently anti-family. Some of these children cannot even talk or walk yet and some, months old, were being breastfed. There was never any intent of reuniting the families, no system to ascertain which parents and children belonged together. Thousands of child immigrants are still in detention centers. It has been reported that these children have been denied health care and have been physically and sexually abused. In one Arizona case, a six-year-old child who was sexually abused in an ICE-sanctioned detention center was made to sign a document supposedly confirming that she understands “that it is my responsibility to follow the safety plan” reviewed with her and to keep away from her abuser. And children as young as three years old are being forced to appear in court by themselves to argue their case for asylum. In what moral universe is it acceptable for six-year-olds to negotiate and execute legal documents and for three-year-olds to be their own lawyers?
The Trump budget calls for deep cuts (hundreds of billions) to programs that help people in meaningful ways. These include Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provide health insurance for millions of poor families; food stamps and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (formerly known as Aid to Dependent Children) program. Depriving children health care and food is wrong on many, many levels, too many to discuss in a single article. But such cruelty is self-evident and doesn’t require much elaboration.
A central tenet of Christianity is captured in Matthew 25: 34-40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it (help, stand up for) unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I’m no theologian, but I’m willing to wager that the above Gospel quote better represents Christian action than does a hate campaign based on the utterance of “Happy Holidays.”
In a previous blog article I reported that Phil Zuckerman noted in a Los Angeles Times column that virtually every top-tier Trump White House position has been filled by a self-avowed pious Christian or someone anxious to further a Christian agenda. Zuckerman observes that “What’s really remarkable about this group, however, is not that so many ardent worshippers of Jesus are running the country, but how non-Christian this ostensibly Christian government is proving to be. The Trump administration’s Bible devotees are pushing an agenda that flies in the face of their own savior’s message.” Zuckerman cites the following example:
“Oh, and how about that inn? You know, the one where poor Joseph, and pregnant, unmarried Mary couldn’t get a room (Luke 2). Surely Jesus would welcome the outsiders and refugees of the world to the most wealthy of nations. Yet his most zealous followers in the White House want to keep the poor and persecuted out. No room at this inn, they say. You have to wonder: Do they make such decisions before or after Bible study?”
Fact is, we don’t need to “bring Christmas back.” Christmas never left. What we as a country sorely need is to have the government bring empathy back. Bring caring back. Bring human values back. Bring honesty and truthfulness back. These are things that have really been bullied out of the political culture in the Trump era. Happy Holy Day! c/s
Copyright 2018 by Sal Baldenegro. You can contact Sal by writing: firstname.lastname@example.org Barrio Hollywood image courtesy of the author. Caged children images in the public domain.