Steve Bannon is not so far outside the American mainstream, after all

Now that erstwhile campaign manager Steve Bannon helped make the White House white (nationalist) again, President-Elect Donald Trump graciously decided to let him stick around. Unsurprisingly, the announcement that Bannon would fill the role of chief strategist in the Trump administration caused consternation in the Jewish community due to his ex-wife’s allegation that he is an anti-Semite.

Although said ex proffered several bits of evidence to support her claim, only one has been corroborated by independent sources: that Bannon wanted to know why the Westland School’s library stocked so many books about Chanuka. In context, the fact that Bannon singled out Chanuka suggests an unseemly level of concern over Jewish representation at the school.*

But Bannon is hardly alone in his concern that this Chanuka thing has gone too far. About two months ago, WIRED Magazine wrote about climate refugees from the Marshall Islands and the growing Marshallese community in Springdale, AR. The article particularly focused on the difficulties these immigrants encounter in the United States, and enumerated a litany of cultural obstacles to their integration: “McDonald’s and Valentine’s day and Hanukkah (sic)”.

McDonald’s, sure: Arkansas contains 184 serving a population of just under 3 million people, which places it sixth in the nation on a per-capita basis. Valentine’s Day, OK: 55% of Americans reportedly observe the holiday, so it’s safe to assume a fair number of celebrants reside in Springdale. But does Chanuka really belong on this list? In Springdale, Arkansas? In quite possibly the least-Jewish state** in the entire Union  (and, of course, the Confederacy)?

It would be one thing for WIRED to have taken this opportunity to highlight how differently Christmas is celebrated in Springdale compared to what Marshallese immigrants are used to back home. But it didn’t; it surreally stuck with Chanuka as a prominent feature in these immigrants’ “new reality”.

It is admittedly surprising to find that Steve Bannon has made common cause with a magazine based in Silicon Valley — what with all those Asian CEOs running around — and this synergy (in local parlance) leads me to believe that their apparent opinions represent a broad spectrum of American society. In plainer English, the combination of Bannon’s concern over a handful of library books and WIRED’s curious fixation on what is surely a minor cultural event in Springdale reinforces my suspicion that America’s true tolerance threshold — above which any amount of Chanuka is remarkable, if not overtly concerning — is set at roughly zero.

You may ask yourself why Christians living in an overwhelmingly Christian society would feel so threatened over a holiday celebrated by, at most, 2% of the country’s population, but I have a theory that this anxiety is actually better understood as insecurity. Without even getting into the tired and standard debate (“Instead of one day of presents, we have eight cra-a-azy nights”), it’s quite enough to observe that there is more evidence for the date of Chanuka than for the date of Christmas in the Christian Bible itself.***

So just wait until Steve Bannon discovers that the first night of Chanuka this year falls out on December 25th Christmas Eve, and be sure to wish him a cheerful — and, for once, appropriately literal — “Happy Holidays!” Let’s see how long it takes before his boss jumps on Twitter and demands we give him one of those safe spaces poor Stevie so desperately needs to protect him from Hershel and the Hanukkah (sic) Goblins, the Hanukkah (sic) Bear, the Chanukkah (sic) Guest,**** and countless other Hebrew horribles.

*Context: Bannon’s other alleged anti-Semitic remarks. The incident also calls into question why Bannon even bothered stopping by a school that is literally down the street from American Jewish University, the Milken Community High School, the Skirball Cultural Center, and several other Jewish institutions. Surprise, Jews!

**According to data published by the Jewish Virtual Libary, Arkansas is blessed with a smaller percentage of Jews than every state but Mississippi, the Dakotas, and ArKansas. But the “10,700” Jews used to calculate that percentage appears to be off by an order of magnitude: another page on the very same website puts the number at just over 1,700, an estimate that much more closely accords with other online sources. Using this smaller figure, Arkansas would easily come in last (.049%), ahead of even North Dakota (.1%). Indeed, assuming the lower estimate is correct, there are between two and three times as many Marshallese people living in Springdale alone as there are Jewish people in the entire state of Arkansas. But I hesitate to definitively settle this question because it’s possible the table contains other errors — and also, because I’m suddenly more uncomfortable counting Jews than ever. No need to make things too easy for Mr. Bannon & Co.

***Compare 2 Maccabees 1:18***** with ample Biblical evidence that Jesus was not born anywhere near December 25th.

****Eric A. Kimmel should really pick one spelling and stick with it.

*****Yes, I am aware that not all Christians consider either one or two Maccabees (in honor of the Donald) to be canonical, but at least half (Catholics) do, and that’s more than enough for me.


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