Cross-posted at Letters Blogatory.
Americans love parades. My kids and I look forward to the Roslindale Day Parade every year. The local schools send marching bands and dancers. All the local businesses have floats. The politicians are there shaking hands and kissing babies. There are fire engines and antique cars. And sometimes the army sends a band, too. It’s a great neighborhood parade, and something similar happens in neighborhoods around the country on holidays.
There’s another kind of parade. I remember it from news reports during the Cold War. Each year the Soviet Union would parade its military hardware through Red Square. Octogenarian leaders would stand in the reviewing stand, and intelligence analysts would study photos of them to try to divine what was going on inside the Kremlin. These parades were kind of scary, at least for children: just whom were all those missiles aimed at?
President Trump has decided he wants a big military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. The idea is about as popular as the President himself:
Members of Congress from both parties joined retired military leaders and veterans in heaping scorn Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s push to parade soldiers and weaponry down the streets of the nation’s capital—calling it a waste of money that would break with democratic traditions. …
“I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud,” Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, told reporters in expressing opposition to the idea. “America is the most powerful country in all of human history; you don’t need to show it off.”
“This is definitely not a popular idea,” added Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, describing the feedback he is getting from members of the largest group of post-Sept. 11 veterans. “It’s overwhelmingly unpopular. Folks from all political backgrounds don’t think it is a good use of resources.”
But because he’s the President and Commander-in-Chief, Trump is in the unique position of having the power to order whatever parade he likes. So unless something changes, it looks like we are going to have a big military parade in Washington.
Yes, I know they do such things in France; military parades aren’t just for totalitarians. But it seems to me that in France the parades are just a symptom of Gaullist insecurity about France’s place in the world of great power politics. As Senator Kennedy said, we don’t need the reassurance. And yes, President Bush ordered a big parade after the First Gulf War. That, too, was sharply criticized at the time, but at least there was a traditional justification, namely, an unambiguous and complete victory on the battlefield.
Much of the criticism of the parade idea turns on the cost of it. But the more fundamental criticism is that we don’t do that kind of thing. Is it legal? Sure. Can we afford it? If we can afford more than $1 trillion in tax cuts, then why not? But is it American? No way.
What else don’t we do in America? We don’t accuse our political opponents of treason for any reason, let alone for failing to clap for the President during a speech:
“They were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”
Contrast President Trump’s tin-pot dictator attitude with one of the first Republican candidates he vanquished during the primaries, Jeb Bush. Bush would have been an ordinary bad President, in my view, but he seems to be a decent, thoughtful person. “Please clap,” he said, when no one did. He knew he was losing and was able to make a mordant joke at his own expense. Trump never laughs, and he certainly never laughs at his own expense. And if you laugh at him, or don’t clap for him—treason.
Leave aside all of the worries about obstruction of justice, profiteering in office, and other wrongdoing. Leave aside all of the policy ineptitude. There’s a limit to how much un-American stuff our political culture can take.