How White Is Your Christmas?

I’ve told some of you the story of how my wonderful Jewish mother one year decorated our annual Christmas tree with gold spray-painted bagels. Family friends thought that was a hoot, but as a judgmental college kid I thought it was inappropriate if not ludicrous. Looking back now, I think of it as a lighthearted but determined attempt to assimilate to the white Christian culture that ruled in the 1950s.

My mother loved Christmas and all its trappings. We always had a big tree, sang the carols, and hosted parties of comfort and joy. This was part of the liberal mystique of the time to proclaim brotherhood with Christians, treating the holiday as an occasion for broad secular respect—much as we cherish Santa Claus.

I never went much for the religious side of Judaism, and the white Christian ideals of that time also seemed just foreign to me. We heard pious mouthings from the believers on the one hand, and then the rage of zealots like those who celebrated the grisly murder of Emmett Till. Fierce anger and hostility came from people who at the same time professed to be godly Christians.

The hypocrisy of that time has stuck with me. And it’s part of present-day politics. The religious right has grown mightily in influence, and their behavior is more anti-Christian than ever. Now it is amplified by white fears of a nonwhite takeover. These fears are driving a dominant portion of the far-right to plot the next insurrection and plan the subversion of the 2024 election. We are facing a white Christmas that looks to be a prelude to more political madness.

In his typical mode, NY Times contributor Thomas Edsall interviewed academics on the question of whether the present GOP is a threat to democracy—and whether the Democratic party is able to defend it. Through voting restrictions, gerrymandering and the inequities of state representation in the Senate, the Republicans gained power even while the white evangelicals declined in numbers. But their influence has gained strength as they see their sense of ownership of America slipping away. They react with “rage, resentment and paranoia.”

Edsall’s respondents fear that, for the Democrats, winning elections won’t be enough. Their support from working-class voters continues to erode. And too many structural elements keep “fortifying the Republican minority, its by-any-means-necessary politics and its commitment to white hegemony.”

One of Edsall’s interviewees (Julie Wronski) notes the GOP’s dilemma: they can’t grow the party with a more inclusive strategy because White Christians, a diminishing base of the party, must be defended at all costs to prevent the threat of minority status. Now the religious right is on the verge of another victory in the Supreme Court, blurring the separation of church and state.

How voters perceive these issues is critical, of course. And the Democrats are not doing enough to get the critical message out that the country’s democracy is at stake. They are temporizing over tactics regarding the BBB in Congress when they should be fighting the growth of religious intolerance and racism. They are hanging bagels on the Christmas tree.

Black Lives Don’t Matter

Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People.

Trump Threatens to Unleash Gunfire on Minnesota Protesters

Horace Silver: The Natives Are Restless Tonight

From the days of the Klan, through Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery and now George Floyd, the U.S. has been saturated with black lynchings—daily, weekly, however you can count them. When I was in college in the 1950s a guy I knew named Clark Eubanks made jokes at the local bar about the recently murdered and mutilated Emmett Till. I was appalled and have never forgotten or forgiven him. My parents, great aficionados of black jazz, would not hire black household help. They could never explain that preferential prejudice.

Such deep strains of racism and fear go back forever in the American culture. They surface especially when the country is in crisis as it is now. The U.S. desperately needs a cultural climate change, and it’s not likely to get one. Trump advocates violence against looters, and the protestors face angry, ill-trained cops. A friend from Minneapolis thinks the police union is at fault, indoctrinating the force in tactics of intimidation and violence.

More than that, it’s the power of the state and the federal government that is exercised against the most vulnerable and persecuted, those it should be defending. A black NY Times opinion writer puts it clearly: “ . . . the fact that Mr. Floyd was even arrested, let alone killed, for the inconsequential ‘crime’ of forgery amid a pandemic that has taken the life of one out of every 2,000 African-Americans is a chilling affirmation that black lives still do not matter in the United States.” The pandemic’s attack on black populations has been simply horrifying. And the trend to lynch innocent people in the street is accelerating. If we needed proof of how the infection spreads, there’s the case of Amy Cooper in Central Park.

Trump called the protestors “THUGS,” a term better applied to his cabinet. May the protestors finally succeed—at least for a moment—in bringing the country out of its racial trance. The natives are restless tonight, and the chickens have come home to roost.