I was distressed when I learned that President Trump has asked the Pentagon to stage a military parade in Washington, D.C., at some future time. The president was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last year. That parade has a long history and, according to The Washington Post, often includes troops of countries other than France. (There were U.S. troops in the parade Trump witnessed, for example.) The Bastille Day parade is a French institution and not simply a display of French militarism.
Trump’s parade is something else. After praising the French procession, the president said, “We’re going to have to try to top it.” Trump, of course, always has to have the very best. The White House suggested that a D.C. parade will give citizens an opportunity to honor our military. One must suspect, however, that the event is less for him or the nation to honor the military than it is for the military to honor him.
Autocrats love their militaries, as the military is the ultimate source of an autocrat’s power. At least for now, the military is not the source of our government’s authority, but the president does enjoy the trappings of dictatorial power. No doubt, Mr. Trump admires Soviet Union and Russian parades and, most likely secretly, those of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as well.
The predominantly military parade is America is an anomaly. Such affairs have been staged mainly to celebrate the successful conclusion of wars, though inaugural parades during the cold war sometimes have had more than token military components.
For Trump, presiding over a military parade would be a demonstration to North Korea and the rest of the world that our military is powerful, that the president’s nuclear button is very big, as it were.
To American citizens, on the other hand, the proposed extravagance is a profligate use of time and money, as well as a distraction of the military from more pressing missions. Americans hardly need additional opportunities to honor the troops; one could easily argue that our military gets more attention than is healthy in a democracy. Do we really need warplane flyovers, military color guards, and ceremonies honoring wounded warriors at sporting events, for example?
To allies and adversaries, the Trump parade will be a sign of increasingly unpredictable and unilateral militarism on the part of the United States. It will be seen as a threat to world peace, discomforting both friends and enemies.
It is my hope that citizen shaming, and perhaps even congressional action, will kill the idea of staging a military parade in Washington so President Trump can say that his parade is bigger than President Macron’s.