Opinion: Why I’m not wishing you happy holidays

I’m not feeling the holidays. As 2023 closes out, celebration feels entirely wrong, one more distraction at a moment when we can’t afford any more distractions, not even legitimate ones. I don’t mean to be a grinch; Christmas and New Year’s are worthy observations, not media distractions, but could the timing be worse?

We need every bit of our attention focused on what’s going on — Israel’s merciless war on Gaza, the dangerously stagnated international effort to combat climate change, our frighteningly partisan judicial system — and the reasons why. The inflection points are piling up, and we cannot avoid what’s shaping up to be a terrifying 2024, not even for the week between Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

Just hearing people wish each other happy holidays, which in past years always cheered me, feels like so much screaming into the wind.

The latest inflection point that’s built up just over the last month is the realization that Donald Trump could win a second presidency. A man of zero moral character and empathy, charged and possibly convicted and/or imprisoned for serious crimes, including attempting to overthrow the government he was entrusted to lead, could be returned to power. That would end the whole idea of government elected to act as an instrument of public good, which is at the heart of democracy.

Think about it: After hundreds of years and then a few intense decades of agitation for the rights for all people, the United States in 2016 was still a country that had more or less accepted the idea of itself as pluralistic. A majority of voters across a swath of the political spectrum more or less agreed on all sorts of rights — abortion, voting, fair wages, the right to say no to war. There was a consensus that inequality, as well as other glaring failures of our government, was something that affects all of us.

In a Trump second act, there will officially be no “all of us.” The nation being engineered by a fanatical, committed minority will ignore the pluralistic consensus, the whole arc of history that has bent, however tortuously, toward justice. Its goal will be, and has been, to bend away from it. And it cannot be persuaded to do otherwise because now it has become so fused to religious zeal that is quite literally hellbent on winning.

The evangelical Christianity that was always an undercurrent in right-wing politics is now its driver, its zealotry unleashed just as the corrosive power of racism and xenophobia rises and redefines political dynamics. This is no accident.

Belief in racial superiority has always had a religious fervor to it, a tendency to uphold the most oppressive traditions as sacred, as something that must be defended even to the death. Violence, represented in the fanatical protection and proliferation of guns, is crucial in both the religious right and the “anti-woke” crowd’s determination to use every means (and every law) necessary to win.

As troubling as the big picture is, this is personal. That 30% to 40% of my fellow Americans actively support or are willing to accept such a dark vision of this country — our country — is colossally depressing. Trump is dreadful, but it’s the support of the base that’s always been more dreadful to me, and the least-addressed by a Trump-obsessed media that’s finally waking up to the Armageddon bearing down on us.

The base is the Armageddon. Trump has simply given white people with grievances rooted in race a reason to find each other and to unite. The audience, not the performer, is the crisis. Without the adoring crowds and Republican Party sycophants who follow their lead, he turns back into what he is: a clownish, petty, whiny, utterly irrelevant fake celebrity.

In the season of goodwill and fresh starts, I’ve become cynical against my will — who wants to venerate the birth of Jesus when Christianity has become a destructive force in this country? Who wants to ring in a new year?

I can hear people protesting: But the holidays are about love, family, affirmation, things that have nothing to do with Trump and an ailing democracy. You can’t let a burning world (and it will always be on fire to one degree or another) steal your joy. In times like these, the holidays are particularly important for reflection, unplugging and recharging a weary soul.

That’s true, in theory. But here’s what I feel more keenly than the need to recharge: The long campaign to dismantle pluralistic America isn’t taking a holiday, and I can’t either.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a contributing writer to Opinion.