Happy Hol­i­days, Don­ald Trump

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By E.J. Dionne Jr. E.J. Dionne’s email ad­dress is ej­dionne@wash­post.com. Twit­ter: @EJ­Dionne.

Some things Don­ald Trump says en­rage me while oth­ers get un­der my skin. The pro­nounce­ment that does both is his reg­u­lar claim that un­til he pre­vailed, Amer­i­cans were not free to say “merry Christmas” to each other.

He was at it again last week in West Al­lis, Wis., declar­ing: “So when I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wis­con­sin that we are go­ing to come back here some­day and we are go­ing to say merry Christmas again. Merry Christmas. So, merry Christmas, ev­ery­one.”

Here’s what both­ers me: Long be­fore Trump came along we were en­tirely free to say merry Christmas to each other. Our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers could say it, too.

On her MSNBC pro­gram last week­end, my friend Joy Reid demon­strated that Pres­i­dent Obama was no Christmas-hat­ing guy try­ing to hide re­mem­brances of the birth of Je­sus Christ be­hind some nox­ious wall of sec­u­lar­ism. She showed not one but 20 mo­ments when the pres­i­dent said the words “merry Christmas.”

As for me, I’ve never felt the least re­luc­tant to say “merry Christmas” — as long as I know the per­son I’m talk­ing to is a Chris­tian who ob­serves the hol­i­day.

And there’s the rub. We all know that Trump has sim­ply picked up the “war on Christmas” theme driven an­nu­ally by con­ser­va­tive me­dia. Like so much else th­ese days, this “is­sue” di­vides us along par­ti­san lines. A PRRI sur­vey re­leased this week found that Repub­li­cans, by more than 2-to-1, want stores and busi­nesses to greet cus­tomers with “merry Christmas.” Democrats, by a sim­i­lar mar­gin, pre­fer them to say “happy hol­i­days.”

The po­lit­i­cal com­mo­tion around Christmas is partly a re­sponse to lit­i­ga­tion over what re­li­gious free­dom de­mands when it comes to gov­ern­ments set­ting up dis­plays in pub­lic places at this time of year. There are le­git­i­mate and heart­felt dif­fer­ences of opin­ion over what the First Amend­ment tells us about this.

But as is his way, Trump side­steps all the com­plex­i­ties. He re­duces ev­ery­thing to whether or not we can “say merry Christmas” and folds this into his attack on “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.” The po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness po­lice are in­stantly trans­formed into a pha­lanx of hea­then Scrooges and Grinches.

It doesn’t stop Trump that “happy hol­i­days” is pop­u­lar among re­tail­ers not be­cause some Big Brother lib­er­als (let alone gov­ern­ment) are telling them to say it. They sim­ply want to sell to a broad group of con­sumers, many of whom aren’t Chris­tian.

If Trump wanted to criticize the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of Christmas, he might start an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion. But a man who sells his brand for a liv­ing prob­a­bly doesn’t want to go there.

What Trump is de­mean­ing is the sim­ple de­cency that lies be­hind the de­ci­sion to avoid say­ing “merry Christmas” to non-Chris­tians. I learned about this not from sec­u­lar lib­er­als, but from my very de­vot­edly Catholic (and Repub­li­can) par­ents. We lived in the most Jewish neigh­bor­hood of our over­whelm­ingly Catholic town. The idea that you can be, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, part of a ma­jor­ity and a mi­nor­ity is a com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence in our open and re­li­giously di­verse so­ci­ety.

My par­ents taught my sis­ter and me back in the 1950s, long be­fore any­one had heard of “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness,” that we should re­spect our Jewish friends and neigh­bors by say­ing “happy hol­i­days” or “happy Hanukkah.”

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