‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas — no better time for King Donald I to bask in newfound adulation amid his members-only court of admirers and assorted hangers-on at America’s new Winter Palace, Mar-a-Lago. It had been a very good week — by his standards, anyway — for America’s 45th president and its first autocrat, having signed the massive $1.5 trillion tax cut that targeted exactly the kind of CEOs, investment bankers and scattered grifters who pay a $200,000 initiation fee and $14,000 a year in dues for the privilege of dining in Mar-a-Lego’s royal splendor under twinkling lights and palm trees and a chance of a close encounter with the ruler that eludes the rest of us serfs.
Last Friday night at Mar-a-Lago’s big dining room, Donald Trump strolled right past a table of his most favored subjects and shouted out, according to CBS News, “You all just got a lot richer!” One can almost imagine the court members shouting back, “Dilly! Dilly!” and clanking beer steins while gnawing at massive drumsticks.
Looking for biblical parallels in the Very Trump Christmas that America just experienced is almost too easy — once you assign the president his obvious role of King Herod the Great, the didactic and imperious ruler of ancient Judea known for his massive development projects. But outside the impenetrable palace walls, in the stiff December wind, the tired, poor huddled masses were learning that America suddenly had no room at the inn this Christmas.
Indeed, the Trump White House spent an inordinate amount of time in 2017 trying, with mixed results, to find new and increasingly arbitrary ways to keep people — including thousands of refugees seeking safe harbor from brutal wars, gang violence, rape, murder, or economic deprivation — away from The Donald’s magic kingdom. There are two sides to this imperial gold coin of prejudice and exclusion.
The first is the so-called Muslim travel ban (so-called because Trump himself and his advisers at various times have called it “a Muslim ban“) and tougher rules on refugees. After a year of fits and starts, courtroom defeats and mass protests — this scheme that was largely invented with little rationale besides winning xenophobic GOP primary voters in 2016 was given a green light earlier this month by the U.S. Supreme Court to target six Islamic-majority countries — Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — on a list that seems beyond arbitrary. (Seriously … check out the insane reason that Chad made the list.)
Last week, a federal judge in Seattle — ruling on a different legal challenge to Trump’s orders — partially overturned new restrictions that have prevented refugees from a wider list of Muslim-majority countries from re-uniting with family members in the U.S. In a case that laid bare the very real pain that’s being caused by this political sop to America’s most prejudiced voters, the plaintiffs included former Iraqi interpreters at risk because of their service to the United States, another Iraqi woman who endured kidnapping and rape because of her work for an American contractor, a female transgender Egyptian facing extreme danger at home, and a Somali man in Washington state desperate to see his son for the very first time.
The travel ban and refugee restrictions are cruel, they’re bad policy and — most importantly — they deeply tarnish America’s long-held and once-cherished image as a safe harbor for those seeking freedom and human rights. And that was before a Christmas weekend report in the New York Times that didn’t exactly expose the emperor’s new clothes but did reveal that — as feared — the electorate has dispatched Archie Bunker into the Oval Office.
The Times article described a President Trump who — despite showing complete disengagement on other policy issues, such as the details of health care reform — is driven to reshape U.S. immigration policy based on arbitrary thoughts and inconsistent if not counter-productive goals that are rooted in the shameful prejudices of his own warped mind. In a June high-level confab at the White House, Trump fumed over how many visas had been issued since he took office, according to two Times sources who were present, singling out 15,000 Haitians as people who “all have AIDS” and 40,000 Nigerians who would never leave America and “go back to their huts.”
This is hardly the first time that America’s racist-uncle-in-chief has gone off in the Oval Office. Remember his “Pocahontas” slur in front of the heroic Navajo code breakers just a few weeks ago? At the time, I wrote that Congress should censure Trump for that and his other myriad acts of racism and misogyny, a condemnation most of us can agree on while we await for more word on impeachable offenses from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. But America’s standing in the world has already been deeply smudged, not just by a president spouting his personal racism but by transforming a country founded on the notion of liberty into such a cruel and unwelcoming place.
Remember, there’s a flip side to Trump’s immigration coin, the inhumane actions of a goon squad known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which has been told by Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to “take the gloves off” and responded by busting into former sanctuaries like schools and courthouses, even in one notorious case detaining a 10-year-girl on her way to surgery. In recent weeks, Team Trump has stepped up deportations against human beings who may face death or other suffering when returned to their country or origin.
That includes Carmela Apolonio Hernandez, who spent this Christmas along with her four children in the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, not just to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ but because it’s the only place she feels safe after immigration officials turned down her request for asylum — after her pleas that her family needs refuge from the Mexican gangs that have killed her brother and two cousins fell on deaf ears.
Nationally, no case sums up the Scrooge-like nature of immigration policy in the Trump era than the plight of Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a Mexican journalist who reported on corruption in that country’s military, came to the United States in 2008 fearing for his life but — despite a seeming slam dunk case for asylum — received a final rejection from the Trump administration and is spending his Christmas in a federal detention center in El Paso. “If we are deported,” Gutiérrez told the program Democracy Now, “that obviously implies death.”
It is against this backdrop of heartless exclusion that Donald the Great had the audacity to declare that his benevolent rule has made it possible for the common citizen to say “Merry Christmas” again. Here’s the thing about that: America and its exceptional goal of religious freedom means we’re not exactly the “Christian nation” that some of Trump’s most diehard supporters have claimed, but that best of America has often absorbed the best ideas of Christian philosophy: Charity, compassion, love.
Saying “Merry Christmas” — and meaning it — means saluting the birth of the prophet who once proclaimed, according to the Gospel of Luke, that his mission was “to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” The kind of folks who don’t just find no room at the inn but get hauled off to a detention center in King Donald’s America, where a rich man may not pass through that eye of a needle into heaven but at least now he and his heirs will be keeping a lot of more of his earthly spoils, and where a “MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!” in all caps rings hollow across the land.