It’s a cold holiday season in America. Not in terms of the weather in the Lowcountry, where our winters are so mild we can barely put on our coats and scarves without overheating, but in terms of the overall climate in the country. Last weekend the Republican Senate passed a tax bill designed to redistribute wealth to the very richest while kicking kids off the Children’s Health Insurance Program and passing them a one trillion dollar tab. It’s hard to think of a more Scrooge-like piece of legislation, but apparently Fox News and Breitbart don’t do literary allusions. Dickens who?
Just after the bill passed, the White House was decorated to look like the spitting image of the white witch’s castle in Narnia. Outside the Christmas tree was lit to a half-empty gathering reminiscent of that dismal inauguration in January. The president, for his part, continues to threaten war and evade prosecution for everything from the sexual misconduct he once boasted about to the Russian collusion his former national security adviser may have just copped to. And his response to this bleak moment in our history is to wish us all Merry Christmas.
Of course, the president doesn’t really mean Merry Christmas in either the Dickensian or the Christian sense — the former requiring a change of heart from miserliness to mercy, the latter spreading the distinctly counter-cultural messages of Peace on Earth and Good Will to All. What the president means is to divide us by culture and creed. When he says Merry Christmas, he’s throwing red meat to his base of white evangelical Christians while throwing shade at the rest of the country. Our best response to this divisive tactic is to answer his Merry Christmas with a Happy Holidays.
Saying Happy Holidays acknowledges that we are a people of many faiths, philosophies, and traditions. It says that we embrace our pluralism and find in it a greater wisdom. In my own life in Charleston, my dearest friends are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and humanist. We say different things in our houses of worship or during significant seasons, but in our life together we say Happy Holidays. This unites us in well wishing and common acts of kindness. The other day after checking out at the pharmacy, the woman at the register, who I see often, smiled brightly and wished me Happy Holidays. I wished her the same. And it was a lovely, human moment. I do not know her religious preference or her cultural background, but I know that I wish her well this season and wish to express it.
I am a Christian, but I do not need to prove my faith by insisting that everyone else use its language. If I were to ask for Christian language in public, which I am not, then I would ask the president to read from one of the Judeo-Christian texts of the season: Isaiah 61 tells of taking the side of the poor, the broken-hearted, and the oppressed. Funny how the one percent are never mentioned.
If this president really is feeling the holiday spirit in his heart, then he’ll have to veto the wealth redistribution bill once it reaches his desk, delete his Twitter account, and apologize to all the Tiny Tims about to lose their health care. Then he could say Happy Holidays, which would be a first step toward making amends with those of other faiths and philosophies, like our Muslim sisters and brothers, whom you’ll remember he called for banning when he campaigned on the deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown in Charleston Harbor. None of us should ever forget that.
I don’t expect that the president will do any of these things. But he isn’t really the problem. The problem is a political party, a power structure, and a cynical culture that are complicit in enabling and supporting his bigotry and corruption. Our senators, who should know better, just joined with Scrooge in fleecing us all with the tax bill and passing the debt to our children. Next year they’ll explain to us why they have to cut Social Security and Medicare in order to narrow the deficits they’ve created. Maybe they’ll wish us Merry Christmas when they do.
Like I say, it’s a cold holiday season. Cold enough to put on our pink-eared protest hats, wish each other Happy Holidays, and save what we can before Scrooge takes it all.