The Frankenmuth Christmas tree lighting on the day after Thanksgiving is my favorite event of the season. In this day of homogenization, efforts to avoid offending (figurative) snowflakes, and endless litigation, it is an unabashedly Christian event celebrating Christmas.
I always worried it might be interrupted by the ACLU or protesters who don’t understand the intricacies of how the event is privately funded (public life in this city has many benefactors other cities do not). I didn’t expect the first disrupter to be the Trump Unity Bridge trailer.
First, a note about Frankenmuth. Its current form was the brainchild of William “Tiny” Zehnder, who decided to take his culture back. In a marvel of marketing, he figured that postwar America would want to celebrate Bavarian culture in a little farming town in mid-Michigan by eating lots and lots of chicken and browsing gift shops. It is now the number one t
ourist trap destination in a state that contains natural wonder like Pictured Rocks.
The famed anchor business is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, with its acres of Christmas ornaments sold year ‘round.
The first time my wife and I attended the tree lighting event, we were shocked by thousands of people, many just curious tourists, gathered in a seemingly public square singing a selection of sacred carols with choir accompaniment. There were also local clergy members reading scriptures. (The space is actually private property in the common area of a shopping center called the River Place Shops.) Even knowing this is put on by a Chamber of Commerce, in this day and age, it’s pretty special.
Now, a note about the so-called Trump Unity Bridge. In Michigan, politically active people are used to seeing this garish 40-foot trailer pull up at events playing patriotic songs. It’s corny, but harmless. An eye-roller, at worst. It’s owned by Rob Cortis, a true believer Trump fan who once owned a bar just outside the Metro Detroit area and now is some kind of media consultant. While not an official part of the Trump campaign, he is very much supported by the Michigan Trump campaigners. The cover picture on his Facebook page has Donald Trump Jr. standing on board the trailer. Cortis gets around the country and has even been on “Fox and Friends.”
A seasonal addition to the trailer is a Christmas tree cutout with the salutation, “A Merry Trump Christmas.” It’s worth noting that his song selections are all of the non-sacred variety. (Of course, “O come let us adore him” would be pretty jarring in this context.)
Now look, let’s give Mr. Cortis the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t do his research. That he thought Frankenmuth was a place that needed his help to bring back Christmas. If that’s the case, then he would have quickly realized his mistake and turned Andy Williams and Bing Crosby off for a while.
But no. This continued until the service was over and people started heading with their candles to walk up Main Street for the lighting of the Tannenbaum. Mr. Cortis spent that time arguing with the owners of the plaza, claiming he had a right to be in their parking lot disrupting their event. (Apparently, he thinks only borders should be able keep out unwanted and illegal people.) After arguing for his right to trespass, it was only being told that police were on the way that finally sent him scampering.
But he wasn’t done. The lighting of the Frankenmuth tree is, of course, done to O Tannenbaum, but also to a singing of God Bless America as the town’s troops serving overseas are recognized.
Right on cue, in the middle of God Bless America, came Mr. Trump Unity Bridge blaring (ironically) Here Comes Santa Claus.
Now, Frankenmuth is a pretty Republican town. My client, Senator Ken Horn, got around 90 percent of the vote last time. I’m sure Trump did well there. So, what’s the point? Isn’t there some Winter solstice event in Ann Arbor where Cortis could strike his blow in the War on Christmas?
But that’s beside the point. This is an event that attracts thousands of tourists who are invited to participate in a lovely and moving Christmas program that even the most traditional church would be proud of.
And it was essentially heckled by this buffoon, who, I guarantee, drew no one to his side while alienating potential allies. He made his cause (and all Trump loyalists) look less like a political movement and more like a cult. Have a Merry Trump Christmas?
I just wish I could be sure that Jerry Falwell Jr., Dr. Robert Jeffress, and a few others who give aid and comfort to this kind of thing wouldn’t think this was cool. I hope their mess of pottage this Christmas is at least warm.