During the holiday season in a typical presidential election year we are, those of both parties, getting used to the idea of a new presidency, of being, if grudgingly, united in the acceptance of the person we’ve democratically elected to head the country for the next four years.
This year,of course, it’s the opposite. The refusal of many millions of one party to accept the vote as counted (and re-counted) even by their own counters has if anything exacerbated the split in the country, to the point where the words “civil war” and “secession” are being heard, not entirely metaphorically.
The biggest problem we face now , even greater than saving lives while we wait for the vaccine to make the world safe again, is that of healing that split, finding common ground as Americans.
Surely , if there’s anything which should serve as common ground to help bring us together, more fundamentally human than red vs. blue, it’s the traditional spirit of this season. It has always seemed a cultural consensus that there exists in each of us and in the culture in general, to be uncovered anew each year at this time, a thick layer of pure seasonal spirit consisting of ancient expectations and unrequited yearnings, colorful lights against the dark and cold, whiffs of balsam, snatches of songs and stories, including but not limited to the Christmas story.
Surely the seasonal message of peace on earth, good will to everybody, all that good healing stuff, is, even as the election-denying continues, working its magic this year.
The trouble is, when you get down to specifics, Christmas spirit itself is not apolitical but indisputably a progressive or liberal phenomenon, if anything well to the left of Biden”s centrism. Christmas spirit takes sides. It’s on the side of people vs. the bosses, on the side of the homeless, the dispossessed. On the side of more equal distribution of wealth. It takes a dim view of what the successful pursuit of capitalist aims often does to the human spirit. Christmas is reformative, even revolutionary, in spirit.
How else to read the beloved Christmas stories? By the time the ghosts get through showing Scrooge the error of his capitalist ways, he is definitely becoming a left-leaning softie (like his author). In the perennial seasonal favorite, “It’s Wonderful Life,” it’s the socialized savings and loan, not Mr. Potter’s profit-dominated bank we root for.
Can these stories be read any other way?
I admit I have a hard time imagining how millions upon millions of election-denyingTrump supporters relate to these stories. Can they possibly see Trump in the reformed, light-as-a-feather Scrooge? And yet how can they read the story as favoring the stingy, unreformed capitalist? In “It’s a Wonderful Life” surely it’s not possible to see the meanspirited, miserly banker Mr. Potter as the hero of that story? But equally impossible to identify Trump with all-time good guy George Bailey, the savings-and-loan hero.
Do Trump supporters see the Grinch as the good guy? Or Biden as the Grinch?
Is it possible to identify the man whose most iconic act as president is to erect a high, steel wall against desperate refugees (while penning their children ) with Joseph and Mary seeking shelter for themselves and baby in that origin story of the season?
Maybe Trump supporters have declared all the stories “fake news.”
It would be interesting to know just how across the country “peace on earth, good will to all” is mixing it up in American homes and inside Americans with the election-denying politics of the moment. If holiday spirit is having its desired effect, it’s hard to see just how that’s happening.
I’ve made the case for the progressive politics of Christmas in one form or another for many years and the fact is, I’ve never I’ve never had a dissenting email. No one has ever written to the paper or to me personally offering a counter-reading of Christmas spirit, taking Mr. Potter’s or the pre-enlightenment Scrooge’s side of the story. Perhaps this will be a first time.