This week, the Republican National Committee caught some flak for a Christmas message that, at its most direct reading, links the election of Donald Trump to the birth of Jesus Christ.
“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,” the statement read.
Trump and the RNC have a well-documented history of sneakily attempting to legitimize demagoguery and white supremacy, while painting Trump as not only a necessary evil but a potentially purifying one. But RNC spokesman Sean Spicer called BuzzFeed News’ very fair questioning of the press release’s King line “offensive.”
The fun didn't start here, though. The treasure trove that is the RNC’s holiday press releases is excellent holiday reading. The archive, tagged “Holidays, Anniversaries and Celebrations,” on the GOP website only goes back to 2011, but they’re a stark indicator of the party’s detachment from reality, and its thirsty attempts at pandering to people of color and women, let alone the most-practiced religion in the United States. The RNC’s holiday messaging operation is a well-oiled endeavor that its members know will bring them publicity. Who reads statements? Journalists. Who disseminates statements without context? Stenographers masquerading as journalists. Who is reading these statements while eating Special K cereal and resisting the urge to chug some leftover holiday rum and sorrel? Yours truly.
When the Republican National Committee re-discovered the existence of black people in 2013, perhaps a direct result of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, they released a statement commemorating the occasion:
“Today we celebrate Juneteenth, a day that marks the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865 and is celebrated across the country to commemorate the end of that terrible chapter in our nation’s history,” RNC Chairman Priebus said. “Our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, but slaves in Texas did not hear the news until June 19, 1865.”
Republicans. Heroes. Slaves? It took a minute for them to find out! Several months later, the celebration continued.
“I want to extend my best wishes to all who are celebrating Kwanzaa,” Priebus said. Co-chair Sharon Day came through with the assist: “Kwanzaa is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to honor the importance of family and community, and it reminds us of the great diversity in America. Happy Kwanzaa!” The well-wishes appeared to be an experiment, as the RNC failed to offer a repeat performance in 2014, 2015, or 2016.
The RNC’s holiday messaging operation is a well-oiled endeavor that its members know will bring them publicity.
They've focused their experiments elsewhere too. For instance, on Diwali: “As our Hindu, Jain, and Sikh friends gather to celebrate Diwali, we wish them a happy festival of lights,” Priebus said in a 2013 statement. There are also nods to Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month. “Our nation’s story cannot be told without recognizing the countless contributions African-Americans have made to move our country forward and fulfill its tremendous potential,” Priebus said in 2011. As with Kwanzaa, these statements are inconsistent in their frequency. The Diwali press releases start in 2013, but the archive stretches two years before that. Filipino American History month is recognized beginning in 2014 but not before. They even missed Christmas in 2014.
Organizations, politicians, and celebrities release statements as a way to signal what they deem important and where they think their voices need amplification. In the era of Trump, they are more often than not used by the GOP establishment to walk back, retrace, clarify, apologize, or cover up the president-elect’s rants online or at rallies. These statements are soon-to-be-relics in the new regime of off-the-cuff policy-making. A “look at my African-American over here” is our new RNC Releases Statement Celebrating Black History Month. “I am a big fan of Hindu” drowns out any tepid institutional acknowledgment of Diwali.
The future is a double-edged sword: Feigned celebratory press releases from the RNC will take a distant backseat to anything Trump has to say, casually or otherwise. Regardless of whether the president-elect continues to put any time or effort into his party's old model, the words will come from a man who has built his political platform on lies and discrimination.