In retrospect, we should have all seen it coming.
Donald Trump loves pomp and circumstance. He loves public displays of toughness. And he really, really loves the military.
Add it all up and you get this: “Trump tells Pentagon to plan a military parade.”
The parade would be modeled after the Bastille Day parade that Trump spectated last year during a visit to France. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” one military official told The Washington Post, which broke the story.
Trump was openly admiring of the Bastille Day celebration, calling it “one of the greatest parades” he had ever witnessed. (How many parades has he witnessed?)
The White House quickly sought to paint the idea as a natural outgrowth of the President’s love of and appreciation for the military.
“President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.”He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
That stance is a purposeful one designed to cast anyone who objects to a military parade through the streets of Washington as unpatriotic, cynical or both.
But, even the most cursory glance at the context around this President and the history of these sorts of military parades suggest that this parade would be more than just a parade.
Let’s start with the history first.
The last time there was a military parade in Washington was following the Gulf War in 1991. A crowd estimated at 800,000 packed the streets to celebrate the end of the conflict. A similar parade was also held in New York City. And, as the Post story notes, both Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy featured military equipment during their inaugural parades.
But, but, but.
When you think of tanks and/or missiles rolling through the streets, it’s North Korea or Russia that you think of, not the United States or France. (North Korea is set to hold a military parade in just days, in fact.) You think of shows of force, public measuring sessions to show the world that [fill in the blank country] is not to be trifled with. Very rarely do you think of the world’s leading superpower needing to send that message.
Then there is the context of Trump. This is a President who has openly praised a number of totalitarian leaders – from Vladimir Putin in Russia to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. This is a President who has openly questioned his own Justice Department and FBI, suggesting there may be a conspiracy at the highest levels seeking to weaken him. This is a President who worked tirelessly to disqualify the idea of an objective news media. This is a President who has said things that aren’t true at an alarming rate – and an administration that has created the term “alternative facts.”
And now this is a President who wants to have a big military parade through the streets of the nation’s capital – largely, I suspect, because he saw the one France put on and thought: “We need something bigger.”
In fact, Trump said as much when he and French president Emmanuel Macron huddled at the United Nations following Trump’s France trip. “We’re going to have to try to top it,” he told Macron.
Bigger is always better in Trump’s world. And might usually makes right. He with the biggest toys wins.
Of course, when the toys are tanks and missiles and no one is really sure what “winning” looks like, the stakes go up – a fact Trump is either unaware or dismissive of. He also seems unconcerned of the sort of message a parade of tanks, guns and other military paraphernalia through the Washington streets sends to the rest of the world that will, most definitely, be watching.
Which means we will probably get a military parade in Washington. Because Trump gets what Trump wants – whether or not it is a good thing for the country.