Social media is currently ablaze with a debate over whether Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chair Sharon Day compared Donald Trump’s impending inauguration to the birth of Jesus Christ in the RNC’s annual “Message Celebrating Christmas.”
Here’s the statement in question (emphasis mine):
“Merry Christmas to all! Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King. We hope Americans celebrating Christmas today will enjoy a day of festivities and a renewed closeness with family and friends.”
The debate breaks down as you might expect. On the one hand, this “new King” sounds like a veiled reference to Trump, which, if you choose to read it that way, is offensive and creepy, and that’s generally how I’d describe the RNC. There was no mention of a “new King” in last year’s RNC Christmas message. On the other hand, Trump is not mentioned and this is all technically standard-issue Christmas celebration language. It could be the work of an excellent troll or a hapless intern working the holiday shift. Who knows. The RNC has since claimed the “new King” refers to Jesus and criticized its detractors for “politicizing” Christmas.
What I do find hypocritical, though not surprising, is how silent the Republican party has been on the matter of Trump’s religious beliefs, today included. Not because, in an ideal world, they should care, but because they’ve made such a big deal of candidates’ religious beliefs in past elections, without fail, often as a ploy to delegitimize their opponents (questioning Barack Obama’s Christian faith to no end, for instance).
Trump’s faith interests me because, despite what the RNC spokesperson says, religion is a matter that gets politicized all the time in this country (see Trump’s rhetoric about Muslims), and the way a president practices his faith publicly, no matter what he believes privately, will always be laden with calculations.
Trump says he’s a Presbyterian, and he’s spending this Christmas in the church where he and Melania were wed. He has also been extremely vague about what any of this means to him, saying at various times, “there’s nobody like God” and that when he makes mistakes he “does not bring God into that picture” or ask forgiveness. An Associated Press story from February reported on Trump’s failed attempt to put money in a communion plate.
What role does the President’s faith, and that of most members of his political party, play when so many people from different faiths and ethnic backgrounds feel threatened by the incoming regime? This is not a question the RNC asked in its press release, obviously, but it’s what the statement, and its attendant backlash, got me thinking about nonetheless.
As an aside, I really hope the RNC wasn’t comparing Trump’s ascendancy to the Second Coming of Christ, because this is what that’s supposed to look like.