Though he was democratically elected, President Donald Trump seems to relish every opportunity to look like an autocrat. His first year in office has seen everything from attacks on the free press to a resilient personality cult — soon, he’ll even get a military parade.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed at a press conference yesterday that the president, who had previously requested a massive parade of American armed forces routed through downtown Washington, D.C., would be getting his wish. The secretary said Trump called for the march out of reverence for the country’s service members.
“We all know the president of the United States’ affection for the military,” Mattis said.
Another military official, who spoke anonymously to the Washington Post, said the president took inspiration for his massive military drill from the French military’s Bastille Day parade. But France’s tradition comes from a place of pacifism and international goodwill, with French soldiers carrying flags of the European Union and including troops from other countries. The context of Trump’s parade will make it little more than an exercise in authoritarianism and wastefulness.
When the parade takes place, it will be the first such showing of military prowess in the United States since 1991, when the country celebrated victory over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq at the end of the First Gulf War. At the time, the Soviet Union had yet to collapse — although it had begun to crumble — which might help to explain the bizarre, Cold War feel of holding a parade in 2018.
In an era marked by renewed nuclear tensions — this time with North Korea — perhaps Trump’s proposed military show shouldn’t come as quite as much of a surprise. The president, who’s entered into size contests with foreign despots before, isn’t acting out of character by asking for a parade bigger than France’s. But it’s a new normal that’s profoundly disturbing.
Beyond the brazen saber rattling, some, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., raised objections to the parade on financial grounds.
“I say that it’s a fantastic waste of money to amuse the president,” Durbin told MSNBC’s Morning Joe yesterday morning.
Zeldin, who’s on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pointed out that military spending for the upcoming year is already stretched thin.
“I don’t believe we should have tanks or nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Zeldin said. “We need to fund the entire military for the rest of the year.”
While representatives of the Trump administration hid behind the excuse of wanting to spend money on honoring the troops, it’s unclear why we should honor them in this specific way or how soldiers would benefit from a parade. Although it’s too early for cost estimates, it’s not hard to see the whole to-do costing millions of dollars in planning, transportation and security. And that’s money that could be going toward the care of active soldiers, veterans’ services or paying for diplomats to help avoid needless military entanglements.
It shouldn’t require a massive show and dance down Pennsylvania Avenue to honor the military. Trump could start showing his appreciation for our troops by not using them as political pawns.