Time for some holiday reminiscences and a few predictions for the new year.
The holiday — Christmas, in my case — was a whirlwind of gatherings from Philadelphia to Princeton to Titusville to upstate New York to Clark Summit in northeastern Pennsylvania. I was amazed by the abundance of Christmas lights, lawn displays, and creches — more creches this year than inflatable Santas. In Carbondale, Pennsylvania, the street lights were adorned with angels holding trumpets to visually spread the good news. Christmas was alive and well.
Just as people at that first Christmas must have been awestruck at the sight of the baby in the manger (at least that’s the story as it has been told to me), so were people this year in awe about two somewhat hard-to-explain phenomena: The weather and Donald Trump.
The weather was easier to explain. This year — so far — appears to be affected by El Nino, the global pattern of weather triggered by warmer than average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Is it proof of global warming? Not necessarily, but certainly wacky weather.
Trump? Not so easy to explain, given that the Donald has dug one politically incorrect grave after another and managed to rise above them in every case. You could make a half hour “blooper” show consisting simply of the news commentators pronouncing that one outrageous remark after another is “the beginning of the end” for Trump. I will give myself a chance to be on that show later in this column, when I make those New Year’s political predictions.
But first let me take a stab at explaining Trump’s appeal. My explanation begins when I received the annual holiday letter sent by a cousin living in northern New York. The cousin, a woman of roughly my age, lives in a rural setting with her husband. Both retired, I believe, they pursue various crafts, gardening, and archaeology. They are also energy conscious. They have solar power at their house, augmented in winter with a propane fireplace and a wood burning boiler, which I suspect consumes wood harvested from their own property. Don’t blame my cousin for global warming.
The letter touched on all the usual holiday themes, including visits to the kids and remembrances of close friends who have died in the past year — “it just makes it more meaningful to live every day fully and be thankful for your family and friends.” Amen. And then she ended with this note of resolve:
“As long as I live, I’ll continue to love Christmas with all the glitz and glitter, color and music. My house will be filled with decorations. This is a USA tradition and may no one individual remove it from our culture as some are trying to do as I write this letter.”
My first thought was that some hooligan had taken to prowling the rural woods and wresting Christmas decorations from front yards. But, no, I quickly realized that the one individual grinch trying to remove Christmas from our USA culture is more likely that odd man in the White House: Barack Hussein Obama.
Certainly to me and possibly to you, as well, the idea that Obama is trying to take away Christmas seems ridiculous. Here in Princeton we mingled with Christians of many denominations, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and, yes, those damned atheists, and not one recoiled at a casual wish of “Merry Christmas” or objected to the evergreen lit on the town square.
Barbara Fox, U.S. 1’s senior correspondent, recounted a reassuring moment of religious diversity. On Christmas Eve her church, Princeton United Methodist, varied its normal schedule of services, offering services at 4 and 8 p.m. instead of the usual 6 and 8 p.m. In case some in the flock didn’t get the memo, Fox stood at the church door at around 6 p.m. to remind them of the change in hours.
On that balmy Christmas Eve, several total strangers were attracted to the church’s open doors and an offer to see the stained glass windows (including the Tiffany “dragon window”). They included eight young Hindu women, one Muslim couple with two children in strollers, a Jewish man, and a Roman Catholic family planning an interfaith marriage. No one wanted to take away Christmas.
That’s what happens here in central New Jersey, the cradle of diversity. If I am spooked out by the vision of the latest ISIS atrocity and the rhetoric from many of the presidential candidates, I need only walk less than a hundred yards to Nassau Street to interact with completely reasonable Muslims.
My cousin in rural New York State does not have that luxury. Against the unrelenting news coverage of beheadings and wanton shootings, she no doubt also hears the steady drone of Donald Trump. I don’t know if my cousin is a Trump supporter or not, but she could be.
A New York Times report on December 31 noted that Trump’s support “follows a clear geographic pattern. He fares best in a broad swath of the country stretching from the Gulf Coast, up the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, to upstate New York . . . Eight of Mr. Trump’s 10 best congressional districts are in New York.” Fear travels far.
Against all that uncertainty, herewith my presidential predictions:
Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination but not before Bernie Sanders throws her a scare in New Hampshire.
Since no one will remember if I am wrong, I will go one more round and predict her vice presidential running mate: Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture since 2009 and governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007.
On the Republican side, I will first hazard some guesses. Chris Christie will have a moment in the New Hampshire sun on Tuesday, February 9, but he will quickly wither when other candidates begin to take him seriously and pounce on his New Jersey record. Conspiring with his top aides to create gridlock at the George Washington Bridge and punish the mayor of Fort Lee will be OK with the right wing rank and file. But allowing the state’s credit rating to drop and drop again and cooking the books by diverting funds from a transportation project to forestall a tax increase will sound like Washington politics at its worst.
Further out on thin ice, I will predict that Donald Trump’s candidacy will come unraveled sometime after the February 20 South Carolina primary. He will do OK in the popular vote, a little less well in the accumulation of delegates. His undoing will be money. My bet is that he will have much less spendable cash than he claims and that he will be forced to make a deal with one or another major political funder. If the artful deal maker works with these sharks, it will be one of the great political sellouts, and Trump will be the nominee. If he can’t, it will be Marco Rubio.
So who could possibly run as Trump’s vice president? I can hear the ice cracking below me as I write these words: One of the “low energy” guys makes sense. I predict it will be John Kasich, whose 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee, six years as chairman of the House Budget Committee, and current position as the two-term governor of Ohio will make him a worthy apprentice to Trump.
Finally, and on much more secure footing, I predict that yes, Virginia, a few weeks after that presidential election, we will be putting up the lights for another Christmas holiday.