Sunday, December 14, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014! Our sporadically-annual review

Well, Thanksgiving is over, that last piece of turkey breast is shoved to the back of the refrigerator, and it's time for Fox "News" to start flogging the War on Christmas.

(Trivia: in the 1920s, Henry Ford published a series of anti-Semitic articles, and noted that “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth.” But it wasn't until 1959 that the John Birch society published a pamphlet to warn the nation about an "assault on Christmas." In case you were curious where all this started.)

As usual, the Most Important Sign that there's a War on Christmas is the prevalence of people uttering the phrase "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" An Un-American Act which blatantly fails to ignore the fact that not everybody is Christian!

But, because I'm something of a troublemaker, let's consider that little fact. Why IS "Happy Holidays" more appropriate than "Merry Christmas"?

There are any number of strange commemorations and artificial "holidays" set in December and early January, like National Bouillabaisse Day (December 14) and Poinsettia Day (December 12); I'm going to do my best to ignore those, in favor of religious (and semi-religious) holidays which might possibly mean a little more to a larger number of people.

(An argument can be made that Maple Syrup Day is holy to the Canadians, but, unlike the Américains impies, they celebrate it on February 6, when the sap first starts to flow, rather than December 17. So I'm feeling pretty safe on this one.)

December 22 is Forefather's Day, commemorating the Pilgrim's landing on Plymouth Rock. You want a whiter, more all-American holiday? And how come you didn't celebrate it last year, you commie?

The day after Christmas, December 26 is Boxing Day, which is mostly (but not entirely) only still celebrated in England.

If you're catholic, there's a whole string of feast days for various saints, if that's what you're into. (After slightly over 2000 years of history, they have wa-a-a-aayyy more than 365 saints, so there's a lot of overlap on them. You wonder if the saints sharing a particular day get along - do they go out drinking together on their day?)

In fact, you know that whole "12 days of Christmas" thing? It's twelve specific feast days, running from Christmas Day through Twelfth Night (5 January). There's a whole list of specific holidays for each of the twelve days; there's also a bunch of saint's days that have been tacked on. Both these lists vary depending on which flavor of Christian church you're dealing with. (There's also some question of how to tack on Epiphany - the day the Wise Men were supposed to have arrived - which is 6 January. If you're interested, you can read up on it on your own.

The point is, even if you're stuck on the "We're a Christian nation!" thing, you don't even have to leave your own traditions for "Happy Holidays" to be more accurate than "Merry Christmas." But we're better than that, right? We can accept that almost a quarter of the American population is not Christian, and maybe they have the right to have their own traditions, too.

For example, December 4 through December 21, a roughly 2-week string, are considered Zappadan, celebrating the life and works of Frank Zappa. Popular culture also gave us Festivus (you know, for the rest of us) on December 23.

Among the 6.6 million Jewish Americans, Hanukkah runs from December 17th through the 24th. And since our Christian friends like to talk about the "Judeo-Christian tradition," it's a little silly to complain about honoring that one, isn't it?

But this is America, and like it or not, there are plenty of people of other religions, too.

If you follow Tantric Buddhism, the 16th is Dakinis' Day, when they make offerings to the Dakinis (female embodiments of enlightened energy) and Mother Tantra. Among the Tibetan Buddhists, yesterday (December 13th, 2014) was Lha Bab Duchen, celebrating the Buddha's descent from heaven after teaching the Dharma there. And coming up on the 21st is Shakyamuni Buddha Day, where they meditate on the Buddha's teachings and strive to fulfill the Precepts. And the 29th is Tara Puja, the fast of Bodhisattva Tara (she has a lot of aspects - it's a little confusing, looking in from outside).

In the Islamic calendar, you just missed Arba'een (Arabic: الأربعين‎, "forty") on the 12th - a Shia observance that occurs forty days after the Day of Ashura, commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad. However, coming up on either the 3rd or 8th of January (depending on whether you're Sunni or Shia), we have Mawlid, celebrating the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.

If you happen to be African-American, Kwanzaa runs from December 26 through January 1, and it's a commemoration of African heritage; having first been celebrated in 1966, it's now officially older than a lot of the people bitching about it.

Here's a thought: if you're going to complain about people not honoring your white, Christian traditions, perhaps you shouldn't complain when they hold celebrations in honor of theirs.)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Are Democrats racist?

Wandering around the conservative end of the internet, every so often I'll slam up against the phrase "the Democrat Party is the most racist!" Usually misspelled, and often in all-caps.

It's easy to refute, but you end up knocking down the same arguments, over and over. For example:
The Democrats are the Party of the Klan
Now, it's true that Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Democrat even before he set up the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan (there have been three, if you're curious). And it's also true that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican when he was first elected.

(Fun fact: Lincoln left the Republican Party at the end of his first term. Republicans are rarely aware of that: for his second term, Lincoln created the National Union Party, a coalition party made up of both Republicans and Democrats.)

But here's the thing: at that point in time, the Republican Party was liberal, and the Democratic Party was conservative. (This fact particularly angers the Teabaggers, who've been brainwashed to think that liberalism is synonymous with "evil.") And from the Civil War to about 1950, the Southern Democrats (sometimes called "Dixiecrats") were among the most conservative (and usually racist) people in America.

In 1948, though, Truman, as the Democratic candidate, put forward a very mild civil rights platform, and that was too much for the Southern Democrats: 35 of them walked out of the Democratic National Convention, and they split off into their own political party, called the States Rights Democratic Party (a.k.a. "Dixiecrats," a term which has been used ever since for hyper-conservative Southern Democrats).

The Dixiecrats ran Strom Thurmond for president, and actually managed to carry four states (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina) along with one stray electoral vote from Tennessee. (Incidentally, that, plus the 39 electoral votes drained from Truman by Progressive Party nominee Henry A. Wallace, was expected to have produced a Republican victory, which is why we have the most famous newspaper flub of all time.)

The Dixiecrats never ran another presidential candidate, and eventually the party dissolved. And following that victory, the liberal Democrats became a stronger and stronger force in the party, eventually reversing the formerly conservative platforms, and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This same action, of course, drew the Republican Party to the right, in an effort to pick up the disillusioned Southern Democrats.

Following the 1964 Civil Rights act, LBJ famously said “I think we just lost the South,” which would prove to be remarkably prescient: in the late Sixties, Richard Nixon, with the help of his advisor Pat Buchanan, devised the "Southern Strategy," using dog-whistle racist terms (example: "states' rights" - the states would have the "right" to ignore these new civil rights laws).

In 1980, Ronald Reagan (working with Nixon's advisor Pat Buchanan) further honed the "Southern Strategy." In fact, it was another of his aides, Lee Atwater, who famously spilled the beans years later, thinking he was speaking off the record to a reporter.
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
And that's where the Republican myth of the "racist Democrats" comes from: the Dixiecrats, and the changing face of the Democratic party. Back when Democrats were the conservative party, they were, in fact, racist; in swinging to the left, they also became the party of racial equality. To the point that, yes, the Ku Klux Klan may have been founded by Democrats, but these days, while not every Republican is in the KKK, almost every Klansman votes Republican.


Edit: (12/6/14) Corrected "North Carolina" to "South Carolina," with apologies to any North Carolinian in the audience.