The other title of this post could have been “The War on Christmas and the Politics of Failed Withdrawl.” Regardless, Tuesday, the Catholic League launched the first salvo in its ongoing War
Against the Jews On Christmas with a large ad on the op-ed page of the NY Times. Here’s what the Catholic League had to say:
(larger version here)
I think the charge of “cultural facists” is more than a little overblown. I live in Boston, a bastion of liberalism, not to mention the dreaded ‘Homofascist Hordes‘, and nobody is ripping down the Christmas lights on Newbury Street or Comm Ave. The Boston Public Library is decked out in garlands. And Copley Square will soon have a huge Christmas tree. Not a ‘Holiday Tree’ but a Christmas tree. And I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the seven churches within a half-mile of my apartment aren’t going to be bombed on Christmas Day (or even picketed). (I do wonder what the Catholic League would make of an Italian mayor in an Irish city presiding over a Jewish holiday–Hanukah).
No, what really upsets these guys is that someone might be wished a “Happy Holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas.” That would be a true daggerstrike to the heart of
Christendom the Republic. “Happy Holidays” is a reminder to the William Donohues and Bill O’Reillys of the world that the cultural default setting for America is no longer White Christian Male, that the White Christian Male is not primus inter pares. This is perceived as a loss of status, when, it really is just good manners.
Now, regarding the post title, many of the younguns might not know what the history of the phrase “massive resistance” is. In the pre-desegregation South, massive resistance was the concerted effort (and battle cry) by private citizens and state officials to oppose desegregation. The reason I bring this up is that the failure of massive resistance led to the de facto withdrawl–and resegregation–of whites into suburban enclaves. It also led to the adoption of ‘anti-government’ politics by the white middle class: perceived government misspending wasn’t originally for ‘welfare queens’ but for black swimming pools, schools, parks, public golf courses, and libraries (and just about every other public service too, including transportation). The urge to
secede withdraw was so strong that Georgia and Virginia attempted to privatize their entire public school systems (these efforts stalled when the voucher system underlying this scheme was declared unconstitutional).*
The point is not to compare the Catholic League to rabid segregationists, although William Donohue’s tirades against “Hollywood [which] is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular” make it very tempting. The reason Donohue and his fellow religious warriors are so worked up is that there is no enclave to which they can withdraw. Unlike the massive resistance strategy, which ultimately found expression by southern whites (and to a considerable extent by northern whites too) in flight to the newly created suburbs, if Walmart adopts a ‘happy holidays’ strategy (shudder the thought!), there is no suburb to which they can flee.
I think this is a major reason why the culture wars, including the War on Christmas, have been fought with such intensity by the Right the last several decades. As America has changed–and I think, for the better–groups and views that used to either be discriminated against or ‘only’ marginalized have become integrated into American culture. If this is viewed in the framework of a ‘zero-sum game’, and if there is no place to set up your own ‘ideal’ social arrangement due to the nationalization of culture via mass media (and federal law), then the only alternative remaining is to fight these battles vociferously.
As Robert Schaller put it in Whistling Past Dixie (emphasis original):
The civil rights reforms that began in the middle of the twentieth century ended the Democratic South’s one-party hegemony and regional autonomy. The Republican potentates who took over the postreform South realized that if America would no longer permit southerners to divorce themselves from Washington, their only recourse was to dominate national politics.
I think an analogous dynamic is at work in the ‘culture wars.’ Too bad they’re on the wrong side of history. Again.
*It would require a whole series of posts to describe the extent to which desegregation ultimately led to white backlash and the ensuing withdrawal from much of the public sphere, including the idea of shared public resources, and consequently gave rise to the modern conservative anti-government rhetoric. Fortunately, Kevin Kruse wrote an entire book about the subject, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. You should read it.