OPINION — In Washington, Santa’s naughty and nice list will be mighty lopsided this year. Donald Trump sealed his fate when he went after Speaker Nancy Pelosi — for her teeth. Then he followed with a six-page letter, a rant that projected many of his transgressions onto those he has labeled his accusers, targeting Pelosi, again, and mentioning the Salem witch trials for good measure.
Perhaps you have to step away from politics for some relief. Well, not this year, as even escapist Hallmark Channel fare has been sucked into arguments over love and family and the true meaning of the holiday.
It isn’t pretty.
Christmas itself has taken on the mean and partisan tone of a country that often seems at war with itself. This week, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were off to Michigan for a “Merry Christmas” rally — and you better not slip and say, “Happy holidays.”
What once was an innocuous and inclusive way to offer good wishes to those of any or no faith during this time of year has become a litmus test for a subset of militant believers, so “Season’s Greetings” becomes an assault on all that is holy and good.
As for a “war” on Christmas, isn’t putting war and Christmas in the same sentence its own kind of blasphemy?
Almost as ridiculous and disheartening is the war over chicken, a major food group. Last month, Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A announced its foundation would focus its philanthropy on education, homelessness and hunger, its statement said, “to create more clarity and to better address three critical needs facing children across the communities we serve.”
Who could argue with that? Well, more folks than you might think. People took the company’s new direction as capitulation to protests from LGBTQ activists over statements by its CEO and past support of organizations that worked to ban same-sex marriage. While it might have been in part a business decision from a company that this year closed a restaurant in the United Kingdom after protests and is also facing competition from media-savvy Popeyes, helping children was nevertheless gracious.
Many conservative groups, however, saw the move and the foundation’s decision not to renew financial commitments to the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as betrayal. Evangelist Franklin Graham encouraged his social media followers to pray for the company and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, suggested Chick-fil-A had “lost its way” over a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tangles with conservatives over which organizations it classifies as “hate” groups.
Damning emails don’t lie
Not a peep from these same quarters when the SPLC exposed a trove of emails from White House senior adviser Stephen Miller to a former Breitbart editor, the majority of which parroted white nationalist rhetoric on race and immigration. Many Democrats demanded Miller’s resignation; the White House defended its architect of immigration policy and Republicans stayed mum.
While the SPLC has had its own set of scandals this year, those damning emails don’t lie. That Miller reportedly had input into Trump’s fact-challenged, exclamation-point strewn Pelosi letter is not at all surprising.
The holiday classics we rely on don’t exactly work anymore. With the president in the lead, the new version of one of my favorites, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” would end with the Grinch’s heart shrinking as he steals Cindy Lou Who’s slice of roast beast while shouting, Mick Mulvaney style, “Get over it.”
So, how about a Hallmark movie refuge, as the insistent card-store clerk kept asking as she pressed a schedule into my reluctant hands? This season, a commercial featuring two women at a same-sex marriage ceremony kissing caused more drama than any plot point in one of the channel’s all-too-predictable programs. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of their overwhelmingly white Christmas fantasies, but to each his or her or their own.) The channel’s decision to pull the ads, and, after backlash, to reinstate them managed to upset everyone.
Peering into Pelosi prayers
What folks believe and how they choose to worship (or not) is so personal, especially in America, a country not founded on religion or bound by it, that you would think that corner, at least, would be respected. But in his screed to Pelosi, Trump went there: “You [Nancy Pelosi] are offending Americans of faith by continually saying: ‘I pray for the president,’ when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense.”
So now, Trump speaks for all persons of faith and, along with his other superpowers, can see into people’s souls.
Moving from Washington to holiday dinner conversation, it means the “no religion or politics rule” has been permanently obliterated.
Somehow, though, I find the transparency refreshing, as Americans are free to witness leaders engaging in a conversation about the Constitution and what it requires. They can also observe a president embraced by white evangelicals who seem impervious as he insults women and a young climate change activist, and calls for duly elected congressman Adam Schiff to receive Guatemala-style justice (and we can only imagine what that is).
Even if you choose to ignore politics, it will affect you, a lesson I learned as I watched family members put their lives on the line to make America live up to its promise; they made my life better though I hardly understood that during that divisive and dangerous time. In America, you can do something, as pro and con impeachment protesters showed this week.
And amid all of the acrimony, in an event crowded out by impeachment and the rest, there was Speaker Pelosi, acting more presidential than the president, leading a bipartisan delegation marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
“In an afternoon ceremony at Luxembourg American Cemetery,” her statement said, “we paid our respects to the thousands of American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom and democracy.”
Fighting back during that wintry siege seemed hopeless, too.
There’s always time for a holiday (excuse me, Christmas) miracle.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.