'SNL': Merry Christmas, here's your next culture war

Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: 'SNL' predicted what we can expect from Trump this holiday season -- a war against "Happy Holidays"
  • Saying "Merry Christmas" plays well with his conservative base and distracts them from his lack of legislative accomplishments

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio's daily program "The Dean Obeidallah Show" and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @deanofcomedy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)"Saturday Night Live" typically satirizes the political events of the previous week. But this weekend, "SNL" took a shot at forecasting what Trump's next culture war will be: Demanding every store employee say "Merry Christmas" this holiday season.

And if Trump's record is any indication, "SNL" is probably spot on.
"SNL" made this prediction in a cold open featuring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and "SNL" cast member Beck Bennett as Mike Pence. Early in this sketch, Baldwin is speaking on the phone with "Pence," who is attending an NBA basketball game. Baldwin asks if any NBA player is kneeling during the national anthem? When "Pence" tells him one player just kneeled, Baldwin bellows: "Get out of there, Mike!"
    Later we see "Pence" at a Starbucks on the phone with Baldwin, who asks, "Do the cups say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays'?" "Pence" explains that it's still too early in the year for Christmas cups -- and that instead the cups read, "'Pumpkin Spice is back'" To which Baldwin replies, "Get out of there, Mike!"
    In this sketch, "SNL" makes it clear what we can expect from Trump this holiday season: a war on "Happy holidays." In fact, Trump insinuated as much on Friday when he spoke at the Values Voter Summit, a right-wing event sponsored by the Family Research Council -- an organization committed to upholding "traditional" family values.
    There, Trump told the audience: "We don't use the word 'Christmas' because it's not politically correct. You'll go to department stores and they say 'Happy New Year' instead. But under his presidency, Trump promised, "we're saying 'Merry Christmas' again!" The audience responded with an extended standing ovation.
    And when Trump thinks his base likes something he is saying, he will double, triple and even quadruple down on it.
    We saw that recently with Trump's campaign to mandate NFL players stand for the national anthem. Trump's original mention of it at a September 2017 Alabama rally seemed like an unscripted, ad-libbed line. In fact, Trump even admitted at a private dinner held a few days later to being surprised that his demand was getting so much attention: "It's really caught on. It's really caught on ... I said what millions of Americans were thinking."
    Since then, Trump has taken to Twitter to not just demand NFL players stand but to lash out at the NFL in the hopes of hurting the league until it gives in to his demand. We saw Trump brag that NFL attendance and ratings were "way down" because of his campaign to make players stand. (Politifact deemed that claim "mostly false." ) Trump even took direct aim at the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, trying to bully him with tweets like, "It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY."
    In this same vein, there's little doubt that come this holiday season Trump will use Twitter to attack stores that don't mandate their employees say "Merry Christmas." We may even see Trump declare that stores saying "Happy Holidays" are losing business and possibly suggest a boycott of those stores until every employee wishes shoppers "Merry Christmas."
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    The reason we can expect Trump's war on happy holidays is simple. Like with the NFL controversy, it's part of Trump's twofold strategy. First, it plays to his base. With the NFL debate, Trump framed it as an issue of patriotism and respect for our flag and armed forces. That plays well with his right-wing base the same way demanding everyone say "Merry Christmas" will play well with his conservative Christian base.
    Second, these issues distract from Trump's failed record of legislative accomplishments. There has been no Affordable Care Act repeal as Trump promised (though his recent executive orders have certainly undermined it). There has been no comprehensive tax reform yet. There is no shiny new wall along the Mexican border. And the list goes on.
    So, come this December, don't expect a politics-free holiday season. Prepare for divisive and ugly partisan divides in stores across America. After all, in Trump's America, why should we expect the holidays to be any different than the rest of the year?