On Thursday night, the Pentagon said that it was shelving the much-ballyhooed military parade in Washington – until at least next year. On Friday morning, President Donald Trump tried to explain why.
“The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it,” he tweeted. “Never let someone hold you up! I will instead attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different dates & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th. Maybe we will do something next year in D.C. when the cost comes WAY DOWN. Now we can buy some more jet fighters!”
Which, um, probably not.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted a response to that effect. “Yup, I’m Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC, the local politician who finally got thru to the reality star in the White House with the realities ($21.6M) of parades/events/demonstrations in Trump America (sad),” she said. (The total cost of the parade was estimated at $92 million, roughly $80 million more than original estimates, according to several news outlets.)
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Here’s the thing: This military parade has been a very bad idea since Trump first conceived of it. What he’s doing now is using a scapegoat that he knows will work with his base – bad local government in an overwhelmingly Democratic city – to get out from under something that was fundamentally unworkable – and unpopular!
The genesis of the military parade, which was originally scheduled for Veterans Day this year, speaks to how this grew from a Trump whim.
He was by French President Emmanuel Macron’s side last summer in Paris to celebrate Bastille Day – the annual celebration commemorating the storming of the Bastille, a seminal moment in the French Revolution. Watching the French military roll through the streets of Paris, Trump could barely contain his excitement; he was like a kid on Christmas morning. “It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,” Trump said at a United Nations gathering a few months later. “It was military might.”
In February, The Washington Post first reported that Trump had asked Defense Secretary James Mattis and other top military brass to organize a parade “like the one in France,” according to one military official. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders sought to frame the entire thing as a demonstrating of appreciation and patriotism; “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” she said. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
The idea was almost immediately panned by, well, almost everyone not named Donald Trump.
“I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud,” Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy said. “America is the most powerful country in all of human history; you don’t need to show it off.”
Mark Hertling, a retired Army general and a CNN contributor, added: “We’re the only nation in the world that defends a piece of paper. An ideology. And to say we’re going to strut our stuff with tanks and rocket launchers and things like that, is just not a good representation of what the military does in a democratic nation.”
Democrats were even more critical, suggesting that Trump’s desire to have tanks rolling through the streets of Washington had a distinct authoritarian air.
“A military parade in DC would shut down the nation’s capital and waste taxpayer dollars just to feed Trump’s ego,” said DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The public also disliked the idea. A lot.
A Quinnipiac University poll released in February showed that just 26% of the public approved of the military parade while 61% disapproved. Told that the cost of the parade was estimated to be between $10 and $30 million, the public was even less interested in the parade. Just 18% said that expenditure was a good use of government dollars; 75% said it was a bad way to spend federal dollars.
To put a fine point on it: The military parade idea was an albatross from the start. The “rah rah” patriotism Trump thought he could gin up with it wasn’t building, and the costs – as they always do when you are talking about massive movements of our military – were going through the roof.
There are only so many unpopular ideas created on a whim that even a president like Trump is willing to keep pushing on. With the Space Force already in motion – and unpopular – Trump needed a way to cut bait on the military parade. The cost estimates that began leaking out this week were the perfect exit strategy for Trump. Lay the blame on a local, Democratic-controlled government, banking on the built-in belief among many Republicans that Democrats love to spend money unwisely.
The reality is this: The military parade was a wildly bad idea from the start that was unworkable for lots of reasons – from logistical ones to symbolic ones. It just took the President of the United States longer than most people to realize that fact.