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Column: ‘War on Christmas’ becomes a war on democracy

For the Valley News
Published: 4/30/2021 10:00:04 PM
Modified: 4/30/2021 10:00:02 PM

More than 10 years ago, not long after we moved to New Hampshire, the “war on Christmas” could have led me into fisticuffs in the Grantham post office. I was in a line of people waiting to mail packages when a man near the front turned to face the rest of us. In a raspy but resonant voice he announced he was about to wish all of us a “Merry Christmas,” not a “Happy Holiday.” And he did.

This was well before the troubled Trumpian years, but already there was a sense of our divided country. I was tempted to call out “Happy Hanukkah.” With a daughter-in-law, grandson and granddaughter who are Jews, I felt as though I had a right. I have more than once been mistaken for a rabbi, and one of my best friends is a rabbi.

But if my Jewish credentials were weak, my fight record was pathetic. My only victory was a totally problematic eighth grade win in 1956. This time, not yet accustomed to being in my 70s, I was looking at a defender of Christmas considerably younger than I was. He outweighed me by at least 50 pounds. And I knew no one in the room well enough to entrust them with my glasses. We all were silent. Not a single “Merry Christmas to you, too” rang out. No “Happy Holidays” either.

Recently, I’ve wondered why we hear so little from Republicans about Easter. Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio has complained about the Democratic attack on Thanksgiving, but if there are Republicans worried about Easter, I haven’t heard much from them.

Trying to imagine what I could have said if someone showed up recently in, say, my West Lebanon post office to shout a loud defense of Easter, I’ve concluded my response should be brief: “Religion is not what divides our country, sir! It’s politics. Actually, it’s a disagreement about who should have the right to vote.”

I had some help with this thought from my friend the rabbi, who pointed out that both Hanukkah and Christmas have long been under attack from commercialism. And she suggested what the loud defender of Christmas might have been thinking: “Something about the world in which I know my place is being challenged. I don’t know how to navigate a changing world. And I am not allowed to be afraid.” I believe she could be right about the larger concerns of the Christmas soldier.

Although buying and selling have taken their shots at Easter, the springtime Christian holiday, like the Jewish Passover, has held on to its profound complexity for believers, recalling tragic history as well as hope and even triumph. An Easter slogan like “Don’t take the Christ out of Easter!” would probably seem silly to nearly everybody.

What’s at stake in our rapidly changing world, really, is political power. We live in a flawed, vulnerable democracy, still profoundly dependent on votes.

Even former President Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, seemed to come close to agreeing on the crucial importance of voting despite his contempt for the “militant secularists” who, he said, ask government to address problems our churches should be solving. “Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ ” Barr told an audience at the Notre Dame Law School in 2019, “have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

Still, in the face of Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him — claims he continues to make despite all the evidence to the contrary — Barr seemed on the verge of disagreeing. He announced last Dec. 1 that the Justice Department had found no voting fraud “on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” But on Dec. 14, Barr wrote the president to commend him on his achievements — including, preposterously, his advancement of the rule of law — while assuring him that the Justice Department would continue to investigate voter fraud. He wished the president and his family a Merry Christmas and repeated his intent to depart the Justice Department on the day before Christmas Eve.

What Trump wanted for Christmas, of course, was for Santa Claus, William Barr or someone else to turn voting results around in Georgia and beyond, and when he didn’t find those reversals in his stocking, he called for an essentially political revival meeting on Jan. 6. The result, as we all know, was a violent, unsuccessful attack on our Capitol by people afraid of Western civilization’s “outsiders.”

The hundreds of election restrictions now proposed by Republican legislators in 43 states would enable a continued war on voting rights that can have far more influence on our country than a “war on Christmas.” The traditions these laws would defend or restore have kept millions of people from voting in the past and could empower a Republican Party that has lost its way to destroy our democracy.

Bill Nichols lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at Nichols@Denison.edu.




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