Even late on Christmas Eve, President Donald Trump couldn’t pass up an opportunity to boast about a made-up accomplishment.
Just before 10 p.m. Sunday, instead of the president being snug in his bed in Mar-A-Lago dreaming of sugar plums and fake news, he took to Twitter to declare his victory against the “War on Christmas.”
“People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!” Trump tweeted.
Where to begin with this statement? I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that on the eve of the holiday Trump claims to have saved, he’d boast about being its savior. Nevermind that Christmas was never in danger: As my coworker Rokia Hassanein wrote earlier this month, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. For many of those folks, it’s a religious holiday. A fair number like me celebrate it more as a cultural custom. For others it’s a combination of both.
Of course, many don’t celebrate Christmas at all – they may recognize another holiday during this time of year or celebrate no holidays whatsoever. That’s the beauty of religious freedom in the United States – you have the right to believe, or not, as you choose and to celebrate those beliefs however you see fit.
And just as we have the right to celebrate as we choose, we have the right to extend celebratory greetings as we choose – be it “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” “Season’s Greetings” or something else altogether.
Interestingly, it seems it wasn’t until recently that Trump felt saying “Happy Holidays” was an attack on Christmas. As The Washington Post pointed out, Trump tweeted “holiday” greetings from 2009 to 2013. The Post reported his first known tweet about Christmas was in 2011, after he’d expressed an interest in running for president. And even then he didn’t wish folks a Merry Christmas so much as encourage them to buy his book as a Christmas present.
President Trump declared victory in a war that never existed.
The Post believes Trump’s enlistment in the crusade against the “War on Christmas” began at the 2015 Values Voter Summit (which we noted here) when he proclaimed, “You go to stores now, and it doesn’t say Christmas. It says ‘Happy holidays.’ All over! I say, where's Christmas? I tell my wife, ‘Don’t go to those stores.’ I want to see Christmas! Other people can have their holidays, but Christmas is Christmas. I want to see ‘Merry Christmas. Remember the expression ‘Merry Christmas?’ You don't see it. You're going to see it if I’m elected.”
Although he didn’t have a problem saying “Happy Holidays” years earlier, Trump apparently is now among the 32 percent of Americans who want stores to say “Merry Christmas.” (Pew found that 52 percent of people don’t care what stores say, and another 15 percent would prefer a more inclusive holiday greeting.)
But Trump clearly hasn’t “led the charge against the assault” on saying “Merry Christmas,” as he claimed in his Christmas Eve tweet. He may have been one of the most vocal generals in this fake war over the last year, having hyped the “War on Christmas” myth back in July when he spoke to the Boy Scouts and appeared on Pat Robertson’s television show “The 700 Club,” and in October during the Values Voter Summit and a speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation. But this crusade began long before Trump stepped onto the field.
Looking back through AU’s archives, we’ve been detailing the “War on Christmas” rhetoric for more than a decade. There was the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and Liberty Counsel complaining about stores that didn’t mention Christmas in their holiday promotions in 2006. There was a lot of coverage of Fox News’ complaints about a supposed lack of Christmas cheer, such as this 2009 mention of former TV host Bill O’Reilly’s disgust over an inclusive holiday display in the state of Washington. And several conservative Christian organizations are noted, such as American Family Association’s push to get store clerks to say “Merry Christmas” in 2010.
As AU’s Director of Communications Rob Boston noted at the beginning of the month, it’s actually been a relatively quiet year for “War on Christmas” claims. Trump has been one of the few people ardently beating that drum. Perhaps now that he’s claimed victory, we can put this fake war behind us and focus on some of the real threats to religious freedom that we currently face: Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban; his administration’s attempts to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against women, the LGBTQ community and others; his support for vouchers that fund private, religious schools instead of public education.
Americans United and our allies will continue to fight against these very real attacks on religious freedom. I’m happy to give Trump the win in a fake battle as long as we win the real ones.