On 25 December 2016, the Republican National Committee (RNC) issued a press release titled “RNC Message Celebrating Christmas,” which read:
Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chair Sharon Day released the following statement celebrating Christmas:
“Merry Christmas to all! Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King. We hope Americans celebrating Christmas today will enjoy a day of festivities and a renewed closeness with family and friends.
“Even as we celebrate, we must also remember those among us who are less fortunate. Many on this day are without hope, and need the kindness and compassion of those around them. It is our prayer we will rise to meet the material, emotional, and spiritual needs of individuals all around us, and what better day is there to love our fellow man than today?
“As we open presents, enjoy Christmas dinner, and celebrate our own family traditions, we are mindful of our men and women in uniform. Many are stationed around the world today protecting our freedoms, and cannot be with their own spouses, children, parents, and siblings. We express the deepest gratitude for service that takes them away from celebrating with loved ones, and we ought to remember them in our thoughts and prayers not just on Christmas Day, but the whole year round.”
Near-instant social media backlash ensued after initial reactions asserted that the RNC or Priebus intended to describe President-Elect Donald Trump as a “king.” A widely-shared Daily Kos diarist entry (the URL of which suggests the title was amended from “declares [Trump a new ‘king’]” to “implies”) objected that:
There are several problems with this narrative: they are either pronouncing Trump the second coming of Jesus Christ (The King of Kings to Christians) or they are implicating that the presidency is a royal right.
Either way, poorly structured or not, it certainly reflects a troubled understanding of civics & faith.
In case you wondered, America does not elect Kings.
If You Only News described the statement as “beyond terrifying” and “insane”:
The Republican National Committee is cleaning up a fire on Christmas Day, after sending out a holiday greeting that pretty clearly compared Donald Trump to Jesus Christ … this is clearly a way to compare Trump’s election to the coming of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith. Many readers interpreted it in this way, with the words “this Christmas” seeming to suggest Trump’s election. Now, this is clearly a way to compare Trump’s election to the coming of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith. Many readers interpreted it in this way, with the words “this Christmas” seeming to suggest Trump’s election.
This is highly disturbing for at least two reasons. Firstly, we do not have kings and rulers in America. That goes against the very foundation of our nation. We are a government by the people, for the people. We became a sovereign nation based upon this sort of freedom. Secondly, Trump has repeatedly shown alarming authoritarian instincts. The idea of his party backing his worst instincts up and referring him to a kind or some kind of messiah is most alarming indeed.
Veteran journalist Dan Rather also expressed skepticism of the wording of the message and its putative implications in a widely-shared Facebook post:
(Although Rather questioned the use of the term “new King,” that phrase has long been commonly used as a reference to the birth of Jesus in music and religious writings.)
Both supporters and critics of Trump debated the interpretation of the RNC’s Christmas message. Some of the former held that the reference to a “new King” was “standard Evangelical phrasing,” with some of the latter maintaining that the use of the phrase “this Christmas” (rather than Christmas in general) was a pointed reference to Trump’s election:
— Alex Leo (@AlexMLeo) December 25, 2016
RNC communications director Sean Spicer, who tweeted the initial statement, also posted responses to what he suggested were dishonest mischaracterizations of it:
Spicer also responded to a BuzzFeed inquiry about the claims, again expressing his distaste for the rumors:
I hope you are kidding. Christ is the King in the Christian faith. To ask this on Christmas is frankly offensive.
The RNC’s statement about a “new King” left some room for interpretation: It didn’t directly reference the President-Elect or the election outcome, and the term “new King” is common nomenclature understood to mean “Jesus” during the Christmas season. Whether the message’s use of the phrase “this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King” (rather than just “Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King”) was meant to suggest something more or was innocently intended is a subjective issue in the eye of the beholder.