Evan Barrett

‘Tis the season where most of the above lyrics are sung to little kids – reminding them to be good so that Santa might reward them for their nice behavior with a few toys and presents. The lyrics also remind us there are standards of positive behavior that we teach our children.

The song also reminds us that naughty behavior is possible, that the powers that be (e.g. Santa Claus) can also punish bad behavior - perhaps with no gifts or a lump of coal.  But when you replace Santa Claus with Donald Trump the song takes on a deeply sinister meaning. It becomes a toxic mixture of projection and prediction - of future punishment for public officials and others who Donald Trump considers “naughty.”

You might say, “What’s the big deal, Richard Nixon had an enemies list.”  One of the dramatic revelations of the Watergate investigation that lead to former President Richard Nixon’s resignation was the presence of an “opponents list” and a “political enemies project.”  But Nixon, for all his failings, believed in our Constitutional structure.

A seasoned attorney, former Congressman, Senator and Vice President, Nixon tried in his own way to make our system of government work. Nixon recognized he’d done terrible things against our democracy and eventually, unlike Trump, had the character to resign.  Nixon wasn’t willing to destroy our democracy to maintain his political power.  Unlike the shameless Donald Trump, Nixon - a Quaker – felt “shame” which helped guide him to his resignation.

John Dean, the White House Counsel who exposed the corruption in the Nixon White House, the person who publicly revealed the opponents list and political enemies project, has said that the powers of the government were never used to “screw” anyone.

But being on Donald Trump’s list carries specific dangers for the person listed. Dangerous punishment coming right from Trump’s own lips. He threatened execution of the former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, whose sin was to insist that the military would not be used as a political tool inside America. Trump has said on the record that “he will lock up his political enemies” if he is president again.

A former deputy attorney general under George HW Bush said: “It is appalling that a presidential candidate could suggest using the Department of Justice to go after his political adversaries, to go after Biden and his family, and to effectively make the Department of Justice an arm of the White House to be used for its political purposes.”

And that cuts both ways. Trump also has sweet presents for those he considers “nice,” meaning nice to him.  His nice list includes the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and others who stormed the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, in an effort, at Trump’s urging, to stop the peaceful transfer of power – fulfilling Trump’s belief that he should never have to give up the presidency.  If he ever becomes president again, he has promised to use the presidential pardon power to the free those who have been found (or pleaded) guilty in court for the January 6 attack on democracy.  He demagogically calls them “hostages.”

In a new Trump world, the powers of the federal government will be used to either punish you or reward you depending on whether you’re on the “naughty" or "nice” list. Donald Trump is no Santa Claus.  Do your part to make sure we don’t wake up from the 2024 election with a Trumpian lump of coal in our stocking.

Evan Barrett lives in Butte after retiring following 47 years at the top levels of Montana economic development, government, politics and education. He is an award-winning producer of Montana history videos, including his 2022 release of “Last Best Constitution.”