Alas, no. And since it's the holiday season, the War on Christmas must be fought yet again, our annual Brigadoon of resentment and outrage-mongering. But the truth is that with a Republican in the White House, fighting the culture war becomes awkward and, at times, even more ridiculous than usual.
In fact, you might have detected a lower volume to the War on Christmas this year. That could be because, true to his promise, President Trump has made it legally permissible to utter the words “Merry Christmas.” Okay, it was permissible before, but still. In fact, you can see the discomfort on the faces of Fox News hosts when they trot out the old scripts about how Christmas is being beaten down by the powerful forces of secularism.
It’s as though their hearts aren’t really in it. They’ve been reduced to running segments about how gingerbread men are MEN, dammit, despite the fact that some hippie somewhere decided to call them gingerbread people (and yes, that was the topic of an actual segment on Tucker Carlson’s show).
That highlights a problem facing the culture warrior: Even if what you're fighting against are broad social forces and demographic changes that play out over decades, when your party is in charge in Washington it becomes harder to convince people that we're in a living hell where all of our values have been discarded and our people are horribly oppressed.
But on Fox in particular, they need the War on Christmas, since it's such a perfect story. It's built on outrage at liberals. It's all about assembling a few meaningless anecdotes into a picture of a national crisis. And it tells Fox's superannuated audience that everything about America is worse now than it was when they were young and it all made sense.
It’s no accident that Fox is where the War on Christmas was born. Its true elevation into an annual cultural event happened when then-Fox host John Gibson published “The War On Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought” in 2006. Gibson’s mantle was quickly picked up by Bill O’Reilly, the most popular cable news host at the time and the culture war’s most enthusiastic combatant. O’Reilly currently delivers his angry rants about secular liberals and black people who won’t pull up their pants from a room in his house, which is the culture war equivalent of George Patton being reduced to organizing the neighborhood 6-year-olds to prevail in a bloody but necessary game of tag down at the park.
But it’s not just the fact of a Republican in the White House that has complicated the culture war for conservatives. It’s this Republican. Trump came into office saying what they wanted to hear about all kinds of culture war issues, including the War on Christmas. But Trump’s triumphalism means that if you’re going to stand behind him, you have to claim that he has in fact solved every problem. Last year at this time a pro-Trump group ran an ad that included a young girl saying, “Thank you President Trump for letting us say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” But if Trump won the War on Christmas, why would we have to keep fighting it? What’s left is halfhearted complaints about gender-neutral gingerbread.
It’s important to understand that as preposterous as the War on Christmas is in all its manifestations, like other elements of the culture war it springs from a genuine sense of loss. When your typical Fox News viewer — a septuagenarian white Christian man — looks around at the world and says that things aren’t the way they used to be, he’s absolutely right. Back in his day, his culture was the culture, and its hegemony was unquestioned. Of course a department store would put up a sign reading “Merry Christmas,” because who cared what people who didn’t celebrate Christmas thought? Of course they had Christian prayers in public schools. Of course every actor in every ad was white, and every couple was straight.
But now we live in a more diverse country, where considering the wishes and feelings of everyone is something that we think about. Corporations looking to maximize profits think about it too. Signs say "Happy Holidays," since a lot of Americans don't celebrate Christmas. Customer service lines let you hear the menu in Spanish, since a lot of Americans speak Spanish. Not only that, music and fashion and other forms of pop culture may be unfamiliar and disagreeable to you if you're of a certain age.
If you were long used to having your culture be not just dominant but universal, that can feel like a loss. So there's a network on TV there to tell you, "Yes, you've lost something, and you should be angry about it. Let's luxuriate in that anger for the next few hours." And there was a presidential candidate who told you that he could turn back the clock, put you back on top, and tell all those noisy kids and dirty foreigners to shut the hell up and get the hell out.
But that’s the other important feature of the culture war in the age of Trump: It has a hard edge. Even conservatives can admit that maybe the design on a holiday Starbucks cup isn’t the most important thing in the world, despite believing it’s a symbol of something larger and vital. But Trump’s focus always returns to alleged threats to life and limb: murderous immigrants, foreign invasions, waves of barbarians coming to wipe you out and literally destroy your country. Trump may deliver lines about Christmas, but for him the real culture war is about race and always will be. For most of his supporters, that’s just fine. But it’s no laughing matter.