When Irving Berlin wrote the song “White Christmas” in the early 1940’s, it is safe to say that he did not intend for the lyrics to have any racial implications. The opening line “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know” expressed a desire to return to a simpler time, before the wars in Europe and the rise of industry and technology forever changed the American landscape. Certainly when Bing Crosby sang it in the movie White Christmas in 1954 there was nothing racist in the song, as the movie in which it was set was about the owners of a ski resort who yearned for a snowy Christmas to lure skiers. No one yearned for a racist past in the 1940’s and 1950’s because in those decades in America legal and institutional racism and segregation were part of the present.
As we approach the first Christmas following the improbable presidential election of reality-show star Donald J. Trump, the notion of dreaming of a white Christmas, “just like the ones I used to know,” takes on a whole new meaning. A single presidential election threatens to return us to the racist decades when the song was first popular, and legitimizes a simmering cauldron of racism and hatred lurking in the hearts of a disheartening number of white uneducated Americans. Donald Trump’s promise that the phrase “Merry Christmas” will be practically mandated under his administration is a sop to his white Christian supporters, none of whom want to acknowledge that there are other religious groups in the United States besides Christians, and who resent any societal expectation of sensitivity towards those who do not celebrate Christmas, which in their minds is a quintessentially American holiday.
But Christmas is not an American holiday; it is a Christian holiday. It is not entirely clear that the celebration many Americans hold on December 25 is really Christmas, which is a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the dark-skinned Middle-Eastern Jew who founded Christianity (I hate to break it to you, Megyn Kelly, but Jesus was not a blue-eyed white man). We celebrate Santa Claus and commercialism, which are not what Christmas or Christianity stand for. Nothing in Christ’s teachings has anything to do with a gift-giving pagan elf, Black Friday sales, or maxing out credit cards to meet the perceived material expectations of family and friends.
America’s Christmas celebrates avarice, materialism, and greed, all of which are perfectly reflected in the crass real estate magnate who was narrowly elected president on November 8. Neither American commercialized Christmas excesses nor our tacky new president have anything to do with what Jesus taught his disciples and, through them, much of the world. His religion was based on humility, acceptance of God, service, caring for those less fortunate, and a code of personal conduct emphasizing honesty, courage, and marital fidelity.
Trump and the heartless modern Republican party do not represent a single Christian value. Trump himself is twice divorced and cheated on his first wife with his second. He brags that he likes to cheat on his current wife and force himself on women, including grabbing their genitals. Trump is a crooked scam artist who uses bankruptcy to screw creditors, regularly stiffs contractors, and ran a bogus “university” that has paid out millions to victims of Trump’s fraud. Trump professes admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin, a murderous thug who runs Russia as a kleptocracy mainly concerned with the personal enrichment of Putin and his cronies. Trump’s record of dishonesty boggles the mind. He lies every day, about things large and small. Trump uses social media to bully his critics, several of whom have had to hire bodyguards to protect them from the Trump flying monkey brigade egged on by Trump’s tweets. He encourages supporters who are racist and xenophobic to the point that he has appointed as his chief political strategist Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart CEO who champions “alt-right” causes. Alt-right is just a euphemism for white nationalist groups like the KKK.
Trump’s behavior is not Christian, as many real Christians have pointed out. One of Trump’s critics is Pope Francis, the most powerful Christian leader on earth. In February, he responded to statements Trump made about his mythical Mexican wall, about immigration, and about the pope himself:
“One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, stated in a recent interview that the pope is a politician and maybe even a pawn, a tool for the Mexican government for immigration policy. He said that if elected, he wants to build a wall more than 1,550 miles long along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etc. Then I would first ask you what do you think about these allegations against him and if an American Catholic can vote for such a person?’”
“Well, thank God that he said, ‘I am a political person,’ because Aristotle defined the human being as a ‘political animal:’ so at least, I am human! And that ‘I am a pawn…’ well, perhaps, I don’t know… I’ll leave that to your judgment and that of the people… However, a person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and does not focus on building bridges is not a Christian. This is not the Gospel. In regards to voting and not voting, I will not get involved. I’m just saying that a man that is saying this is not a Christian, if he has really said all of these things. Until then, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.”
For those who discount a foreign pope criticizing an American presidential candidate, a little closer to home is Russell Moore, the chief political strategist for no less than the Southern Baptist Convention, hardly a bastion of liberalism:
Russell Moore, who presides over the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Trump “an awful candidate” and criticized “the old-guard religious right political establishment” for supporting him, notwithstanding Trump’s “serious moral problems” and a Southern Baptist tradition of opposing politicians whose personal behavior is considered un-Christian.
“The religious right,” Moore argued in an October speech, “turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”
The rest of the American GOP is no more Christian than their new fearless leader. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Moore is under fire from other evangelicals for his criticism of Trump. Other Republicans are similarly cowardly, embracing a president who they personally disdain.
Even without Trump, Republican policies contain little that is consistent with Christianity. The GOP belittles public protests by Black Lives Matter, who want to stop the killing of unarmed black men by police. They want to throw 20 million Americans who have health insurance now thanks to Obamacare off the insurance rolls, where many will die as a result. They want to eliminate the social safety net so billionaires like Trump (allegedly) can pay lower taxes. They agree that America is at war with an entire religion, because of religion.
And like the cowards they are, by and large American Republicans are silent in the face of an emboldened group of racist whites who have just gone hog wild in the wake of Trump’s election.
Abraham Lincoln is spinning in his grave.
These racists who gave Trump the last push he needed to gain a narrow electoral college victory are indeed dreaming of a white Christmas, one where they can feel free to use racial slurs and return to the good old days of Jim Crow laws, where they can wish Jews and Hindus Merry Christmas without fear of social consequences, and where they can feel better about their lives because at least they are white, which they hope will once again mean that they have a leg up on those of other races.
I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas in any sense of the word. As to weather, here in Alabama it hardly ever snows in December anyway. On the race question, I am dreaming of a Christmas of peace, tolerance, and good will towards all, and charity towards those who are less fortunate.
In Trump’s America, though, everything including Christmas may soon be as white as Eisenhower’s America, and immigrants and minorities may become truly second class citizens. It is against that result that I fight.
Merry Christmas. And happy holidays.