Merry Christmas! I say the term freely, as Donald Trump promised we would all be able to do, if he were elected. This was a welcome promise to Christians who had accepted the notion that the previous administration had schemed to eliminate the use of the phrase.
But there are at least four things wrong with the promise. First, apparently the previous administration never set out to abolish “Merry Christmas,” at all, as can be clearly seen from news clips of President Obama using it repeatedly.
Second, there’s no evidence that the effort by some businesses and organizations to use the term “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” was anything beyond an effort to be accepting, tolerant and inclusive of Americans who aren’t Christians or who are not religious, at all. What could be more Christ-like than that?
In addition, Trump was clearly co-opting “Merry Christmas” as a political weapon in the imagined “War on Christmas.” This requires injecting the term with elements of coercion, aggression and intolerance.
Finally, have we ever had a president who is less Christ-like than Trump? And that’s saying a lot. Trump has a tendency to corrupt and taint whatever he touches, which means that Americans who hold Christmas as the most sacred day of the year should be wary when Trump begins to appropriate it for his own purposes.
Here’s an example: President Trump invoked the spirit of Christmas as he signed the Republican tax reform bill, calling it an “incredible Christmas gift for hard-working Americans.”
But it turns out that a burgeoning Christmas trend is “self-gifting.” Some sources indicate that as many as 25 percent of Americans will give themselves at least one gift this Christmas. Count Trump and other wealthy Republicans among this 25 percent.
Trump claims that the new tax plan will cost him and his family a fortune. But fact-checkers at CNN, the Washington Post and Politifact indicate otherwise.
Because the final bill was cobbled together hastily and because Mr. Trump’s tax history remains a mystery, it’s hard to say how much he will benefit from the measure. But an analysis by the New York Times, completed before the bill reached its final form, found that the president and his family could save as much as $1.1 billion in taxes.
So Trump has good reason to know that he is lying about the tax bill. And his invocation of Christmas rings a bit hollow in light of guidance from the man whose birth Christians celebrate this time of year: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Of course, Christmas lost its moorings long before Trump came along. The fact that it’s banal to point out the over-commercialization of Christmas doesn’t decrease the number of hurdles we have to leap to mesh the exorbitant getting and spending that we pursue on this holiday with the simple injunction to “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.”
It’s always tempting to cherry-pick the Bible for apt phrases to suit our purposes. But if we overlook the inconvenient things that Jesus said and tried to distill his message down to the parts that we mostly like, surely they would be things such as these:
Don’t lie. Don’t cheat on your wife. Make peace rather than war. Don’t be greedy. Welcome the stranger. Help the poor. Be tolerant of the infirmities of others. Practice respect.
None of this sounds much like Donald Trump.
Or maybe like many of the rest of us. After all, Jesus also said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
But none of us is president; none of us has the power to do the kind of good or harm that Trump can do.
Thus we spend our first Christmas of the Trump era. And the “reason for the season” must be looking down and wondering what we’ve done to our annual celebration of peace, joy and goodwill.
And what would Jesus say to Donald Trump this Christmas? How about: “Blessed are the meek.”
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.