I always suspected that, for all the annual controversy, very few people really object when someone says “Merry Christmas!” to them. The firm Public Policy Polling has done the legwork to prove it: Only three percent of their respondents took offense at the greeting. Not many people are fighting in the war on Christmas.
There is still a war on Santa, however, even among people who celebrate Christmas. The jolly old elf’s detractors would have you believe that he sits on a throne of lies. When your kids learn the truth, they say, they’ll be disappointed, and less likely to believe anything else you say.
Less likely, too, to believe in Christianity, according to some of my fellow Christians: If your parents told you one comforting but improbable story when you were growing up, maybe they told you a lot of them. It’s the kind of thought that from time to time leads preachers to lash out, seeking out kids to debunk the myth.
And if these sorts of considerations lead you to deny your kids Santa, I won’t call you a Grinch. He wasn’t part of my Christmases growing up — not after an older brother found where the presents were being hidden and showed the rest of us — and it’s not a loss I feel keenly.
But as for the Ponnurus of Alexandria, Virginia: We are a pro-Santa family. The “sacred and benevolent burglary on Christmas Eve,” as G.K. Chesterton called it, will take place in our house for as long as our children are open to it.
The main reason we side with Santa is that the kids love this part of the Christmas tradition almost as much as they love the presents. They like writing him a letter. They like setting out a cookie and some milk by the tree for the big night.
Sometimes, yes, it feels as though you have trapped yourself in a web of lies. A few years ago my wife and I were assembling some toy late on Christmas Eve when we heard two deer fighting in our backyard. I feared that the next morning I’d have to explain away a reindeer with a broken neck (“So Blitzen had a little accident ...”). Thankfully they unlocked horns and jumped over the fence.
But we also tell ourselves that Santa teaches our children lessons that are important and true: that they are loved and watched over by someone who knows their heart and wants them to be good; that their stockings are full of things they can have done nothing to deserve; that the world is a gift. There will be time, later, to use other methods to teach them all of what we mean. Santa will have prepared the way.
So, as the song says, “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above, ‘cause Santa Claus comes tonight!”
“Pottersville is closer to how we live now than Bedford Falls.”
Mary Owen, youngest daughter of the “It’s a Wonderful Life” co-star Donna Reed, is sitting in the Washington Square Diner in Greenwich Village. Across the street, a sold-out house is watching the film in a theater.
Mary had just spoken to the audience, mostly millennials. Some had never seen it. She shared stories of her mother and secrets of the filming. She said watching it now is “a good corrective to the campaign we just went through.” The crowd cheered.
Frank Capra’s film premiered 70 years ago this week. It was a commercial flop. “People had already lived through the Depression,” Mary says over a cup of chicken soup. “They had already lived through runs on the bank. They had already lived through World War II, and the rationing. And then suicide. Why would they want to go to a movie [about] all of that?”
But it proved timeless. Mary pulls out an unpublished tribute to the film that her mother had delivered in 1975, just as television audiences were beginning to discover it. She had written: “The great Capra was working with this sure and pure instinct for the human qualities — goodness, badness, courage, despair, love and death (with no fear of looking hard at the latter), especially as they are borne by the common man, our everyday kind of neighbor” — Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey.
George is the film’s hero, who is saved by selflessness: his own, through an epiphany about what his life has meant to others, and his community’s, whose generosity rescues him from arrest. Their selflessness is all the more powerful because it comes in response to the extreme selfishness they encounter in the world, personified by the rich, greedy, heartless and vainglorious old codger Mr. Potter.
“The thing that always irks me about Potter,” Mary says, “is that he got away with keeping that $8,000” — money that belonged to the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. Potter’s fraud, she says with a laugh, “almost feels like Trump not having to show his taxes.”
It’s hard not see a little of Potter in Trump. In 2007, Trump rooted for a collapse in the real estate market “because then people like me would go in and buy.” Potter tries the same strategy, only to be blocked by George. When George turns to him for a loan to cover the missing $8,000, Potter’s attack — at 137 characters — is almost Trumpian: “What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk, crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help.” Sad!
At the end of that scene, Potter calls the police to swear out an arrest warrant for George. It had a familiar ring to Mary: “When Potter says, ‘See you in jail!’, it reminds me of Trump — all of his threats to put Hillary in jail.”
Mary called the film a corrective to the campaign because the campaign had been “so mean-spirited,” while the film shows the power of a strong and caring community: people helping theirs neighbors with genuine concern and without ulterior motive.
When George’s guardian angel (third class) shows him what his hometown of Bedford Falls would look like had he never have been born, he encounters the same people he’s known all his life. But there’s a darkness to their character. A meanness in their tone. A loneliness in their eyes. A violence in their hearts. And a looseness to their morals.
Leadership — George’s ethical, principled, compassionate, selfless leadership — mattered. It had made all the difference.
Many Americans are worried that Trump’s victory will usher in a dark, mean, intolerant mood reminiscent of Pottersville. It’s true that his vanity, demagoguery, dishonesty and lack of curiosity form a dangerous and combustible brew. But the values of the country — and the values of a community — are defined by how individuals like George Bailey choose to live their lives more than by who sits in the Oval Office.The voters of Seneca County in New York State, where the imaginary Bedford Falls is said to be located, voted for Trump over Clinton. There, and in towns across America, live good and honest people — Republicans, Democrats and independents — who are struggling and worried about their futures. What unites them is their desire to live in communities where working people can earn a decent living and buy their own home. That is far stronger than their attachment to any particular politician or party. Bedford Falls belongs to us all.
“Now, we can get through this thing all right,” George says in the midst of the bank run that nearly puts him out of business and hands control of the town to Potter. “We’ve, we’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.”
There would be no Christmas celebration without Christ. It is encouraging to see Americans around the country winning battles to uphold and restore traditional Christian values. This country was founded largely by Christians who escaped oppressive dictators in Europe and the state Church of England, which denied freedom of religious expression as do the so-called “churches” in communist countries today. The Supreme Court ruled many times that this is a Christian nation until they removed prayer and Bible reading from schools in 1962-63.
Our Founding Fathers, while not all members of the same church or denomination, had common religious beliefs which run like golden threads through the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. These self-evident truths common to most religions include a respect for a Creator as supreme power in the universe; obedience to a moral code such as the Ten Commandments; responsibility of mankind towards his fellow man (the Golden Rule); belief in life after death and a judgment day in the next life.
The founders, including Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and John and Samuel Adams, referred to these fundamental beliefs as the “Religion of America” and said they all belonged to the same Christian religion, although not to the same denomination. Jefferson called these basic beliefs the principles “in which God has united us all.” These Christian leaders wanted religion to be a part of government including our schools. They did not want a national denomination! Separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. The American Revolution connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.
As we celebrate Christmas and exchange gifts, let us remember God’s gift to mankind, Jesus Christ, and Christ’s gifts of the atonement and eternal life for us. These are the gifts of real worth. Have a Merry Christmas!
WASHINGTON — The fall of Aleppo just weeks before Barack Obama leaves office is a fitting stamp on his Middle East policy of retreat and withdrawal. The pitiable pictures from the devastated city showed the true cost of Obama’s abdication. For which he seems to have few regrets, however. In his end-of-year news conference, Obama defended U.S. inaction with his familiar false choice: it was either stand aside or order a massive Iraq-style ground invasion.
This is a transparent fiction designed to stifle debate. Five years ago, the popular uprising was ascendant. What kept a rough equilibrium was regime control of the skies. At that point, the U.S., at little risk and cost, could have declared Syria a no-fly zone, much as it did Iraqi Kurdistan for a dozen years after the Gulf War of 1991.
The U.S. could easily have destroyed the regime’s planes and helicopters on the ground and so cratered its airfields as to make them unusable. That would have altered the strategic equation for the rest of the war.
And would have deterred the Russians from injecting their own air force — they would have had to challenge ours for air superiority. Facing no U.S. deterrent, Russia stepped in and decisively altered the balance, pounding the rebels in Aleppo to oblivion. The Russians were particularly adept at hitting hospitals and other civilian targets, leaving the rebels with the choice between annihilation and surrender.
Obama has never appreciated that the role of a superpower in a local conflict is not necessarily to intervene on the ground, but to deter a rival global power from stepping in and altering the course of the war. That’s what we did during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Moscow threatened to send troops to support Egypt and President Nixon countered by raising America’s nuclear alert status to Defcon 3. Russia stood down.
Less dramatically but just as effectively, American threats of retaliation are what kept West Germany, South Korea and Taiwan free and independent through half a century of Cold War.
It’s called deterrence. Yet Obama never had the credibility to deter anything or anyone. In the end, the world’s greatest power was reduced to bitter speeches at the U.N. “Are you truly incapable of shame?” thundered U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power at the butchers of Aleppo. As if we don’t know the answer. Indeed the shame is on us for terminal naivete, sending our secretary of state chasing the Russians to negotiate one humiliating pretend cease-fire after another.
Even now, however, the Syria debate is not encouraging. The tone is anguished and emotional, portrayed exclusively in moral terms. Much less appreciated is the cold strategic cost.
Assad was never a friend. But today he’s not even a free agent. He’s been effectively restored to his throne, but as the puppet of Iran and Russia. Syria is now a platform, a forward base, from which both these revisionist regimes can project power in the region.
Iran will use Syria to advance its drive to dominate the Arab Middle East. Russia will use its naval and air bases to bully the Sunni Arab states, and to shut out American influence.
It’s already happening. The foreign and defense ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey convened in Moscow this week to begin settling the fate of Syria. Notice who wasn’t there. For the first time in four decades, the United States, the once dominant power in the region, is an irrelevance.
With Aleppo gone and the rebels scattered, we have a long road ahead to rebuild the influence squandered over the last eight years. President-elect Donald Trump is talking about creating safe zones. He should tread carefully. It does no good to try to do now what we should have done five years ago. Conditions are much worse. Russia and Iran rule. Maintaining the safety of safe zones will be expensive and dangerous. It will require extensive ground deployments and it risks military confrontation with Russia.
And why? Guilty conscience is not a good reason. Interventions that are purely humanitarian — from Somalia to Libya — tend to end badly. We may proclaim a “responsibility to protect,” but when no American interests are at stake, the engagement becomes impossible to sustain. At the first losses, we go home.
In Aleppo, the damage is done, the city destroyed, the inhabitants ethnically cleansed. For us, there is no post-facto option. If we are to regain the honor lost in Aleppo, it will have to be on a very different battlefield.