Cristina Mazam, Newsweek, December 24, 2017
President Donald Trump wants Americans to think he re-invented Christmas.
“We can say merry Christmas again,” he has said on numerous occasions both during his campaign for president and his presidency. “Christmas is back, better and bigger than ever before,” he told supporters months before the Christmas season.
Wishing people “merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays,” is thus in line with Trump’s decision to ban citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, critics say. It fits neatly with his refusal to condemn white supremacists when they march against diversity, and with his condemnation of athletes who protest police brutality against black men.
Trump isn’t the first political figure in history to co-opt Christmas. In fact, some see parallels between Trump’s speeches in front of Christmas trees and attempts by authoritarian regimes like the Nazis to manipulate popular celebrations to promote a political ideology. But by weaponizing Christmas in this way, Trump is bringing a dangerous tradition of politicizing religious holidays into the United States, experts say.
“Because Americans have enjoyed a relatively stable political system, Christmas in the U.S. has been relatively immune to the overt politicization of the holiday,” Joe Perry, author of the book Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History, which examines the way Nazis used Christmas to spread fascism, told Newsweek.
In this context, Trump has been using the so-called war on Christmas to wage a culture war that pits multicultural liberals against Christian conservatives. He began doing this long before Christmas. Meanwhile, members of the religious right support Trump’s most nationalist, race-baiting form of political rhetoric, including his re-claiming of Christmas.
Likewise, Nazi Germany’s propagandists rooted their idea of Christmas in visions of ethno-nationalism. They rewrote the lyrics of Christmas carols, promoted Nazified holiday traditions and launched numerous Christmas charity events for poor Germans. The ultimate goal was to draw a clear line between those who belonged and those who should be excluded, those who could not benefit from the joys of Christmas.
Trump’s rhetoric differs from that of Nazi Germany’s, most notably because he has never advocated for genocide. But Trump’s talk about Christmas coexists with reemerging white identity politics, experts say.
“Committed white nationalists love Trump’s bring back Christmas campaign almost as much as evangelicals,” Dr. Randy Blazak, a sociology professor who studies white nationalism, told Newsweek. “His followers see this as gospel and a rebuking of multiculturalism and political correctness, and the growing influence of Jews, Muslims, atheists and other non-WASPs.”
Perry argues that Trump hasn’t gone nearly as far as the Nazis in promoting his vision of the holidays, and he sees major flaws in describing Trump as a Nazi-like figure. But there are some clear parallels.
“Trump and the Nazis share aspects of race-baiting and perhaps broader aspects of extreme conservatism — many political ideologies do,” Perry said.
“Frankly, I’m not sure how far Trump himself is willing to go to use the holiday to promote anti-Muslim or anti-minority visions of America, or if he even really understands what he is doing with his ‘Merry Christmas’ tirades.”