With Trump, conservatives hope for ally in ‘War on Christmas’
Conservatives are hoping that Donald Trump will be a strong ally in the “War on Christmas.”
The president-elect, who repeatedly promised his supporters “we’re going to say ‘merry Christmas’ again,” made opposition to political correctness a tenet of his campaign. For some Trump voters, the generic, non-religious greeting “happy holidays” — a phrase often employed by the Obama administration — exemplifies that PC culture.
“I’m a good Christian. If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘merry Christmas’ at every store,” Trump said in Iowa last year. “You can leave ‘happy holidays’ at the corner.”
Since Election Day, Trump has kept up the same tune.
“President-elect Trump loves Christmas and makes a point of proudly saying ‘Merry Christmas’ every chance he gets,” his transition team said in a November statement announcing that it was offering in its online store a Christmas ornament version of his famous “Make America Great Again” hat. The ornament retails for $149.
“You can say again ‘merry Christmas’ because Donald Trump is now the president,” Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, said on “Hannity” Tuesday evening. “You can say it again. It’s OK to say.”
And on Dec. 1, Fox News declared in a tweet:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 2, 2016
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who has introduced a House resolution in defense of Christmas celebrations, applauds Trump’s remarks. In a recent interview with The Hill, Lamborn said he’s optimistic the holiday will remain safe under the new commander in chief.
“I am glad he expressed those thoughts, and so hopefully that means in the future, after he’s sworn in and gets to appoint people to federal positions, that we won’t have any federal participation in squelching the celebration of Christmas,” Lamborn said.
However, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, points out that “obviously the president has no power to determine what holiday greetings are used in stores and shops.”
It remains to be seen what actions, if any, Trump would take from the Oval Office regarding Christmas, but Lynn said the president-elect’s “heated rhetoric” was intended purely “to energize his base” about what is essentially a non-issue.
“Nothing says freedom more than a president telling the public what holidays to celebrate and exactly how to celebrate them,” he said in an email. “But I’m mollified by the fact that Trump’s promise is meaningless because, thankfully, he has no power to enforce it.”
For the past few decades, conservative commentators and politicians have drawn attention to what they call increased efforts to secularize the holiday. Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson see the defense of Christian specificity in late December as an issue of religious freedom.
In 2004, Gibson wrote “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.” The book details instances where local governments chose to ban elements of Christmas cheer in order to avoid taxpayer funding of a religious event.
“Christians are coming to retake their place in the public square, and the most natural battleground in this war is Christmas,” Gibson wrote.
Throughout his campaign, Trump fans lauded him as someone not afraid to fight back against political correctness, including floating a boycott of Starbucks over its secular holiday cups.
More than 80 percent of white evangelicals reportedly voted for Trump. And, according to a December survey from The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute, 39 percent of that group feels like their quality of life is about to improve.
“It was clear that he struck a chord,” Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) said on the Huffington Post’s “So That Happened” podcast last month. “I think kind of in a nutshell, the Democrats have always pandered to various groups of people, but nobody was really ever pandering to that broad group of people that just got fed up with being told they couldn’t say ‘merry Christmas’ anymore.”
Of course, Trump is not the first politician to take up the cause of Dec. 25 as a crystallization of the greater issue of religious liberty.
Last December, Lamborn introduced a House resolution to express that the chamber “strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas” and “expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.”
The resolution, which has 42 Republican co-sponsors, has not yet been taken up on the House floor, but Lamborn said he will keep pushing for it. He is optimistic the Trump administration will share the same sentiment and block attempts at anti-Christmas discrimination.
“It may continue to happen here and there in communities or in states but hopefully it won’t happen at the federal level,” he added. “I hope we see a change so that people are free to celebrate or not to celebrate, whichever way suits them.”
The Colorado Republican, who yearns for “a more mellow and celebratory Christmas,” says he hopes Trump sends strong signals that Christians should be allowed to mark the traditional birthday of Jesus as they see fit.
“We’ll see, and hopefully with the federal agencies and his appointments, this won’t even be a big issue next year,” Lamborn said.
Others remain adamant it isn’t an issue at all.
“As a Christian minister, it’s clear to me that the ‘War on Christmas’ is a fiction created largely by the Religious Right, aided and abetted by the Fox News Channel,” Lynn said.
He added, “Americans celebrate Christmas in many different ways, and some don’t celebrate it at all. It’s up to each individual to decide, and that’s how it should be.”
However hard President Trump ends up pushing for a pro-Christmas United States, that last point on American freedom is one on which the reverend and the congressman seem to agree.
“In the larger context of religious liberty, I think people want to live and let live,” Lamborn said.