After his Bastille Day visit last year with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Trump left with a new idea: to stage an American military parade after the French model. Having seen French military forces march and fly down the Champs-Élysées, Trump thought U.S. troops could stage such a spectacle too. Only bigger.
This response to the French national celebration was typical Trump. Pundits at home and abroad have had a hard time putting their collective finger on exactly what it is that makes this new president’s political sensibility so distinctive. I know what it is: his understanding of America does not boil down to a formula or a phrase, and it cannot be captured in a creed or a pledge. It is, rather, visceral.
He campaigned for America’s highest office partly on a promise to push Congress into funding dramatic improvements to America’s airports, roads, bridges, and ports. Why? Because it does not seem right to him that the great American public works should seem so ratty in comparison to those of, say, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, or the United Kingdom. What to do? How about a $1 trillion program of building or rebuilding such facilities?
How unsophisticated! the cognoscenti sneered. Where did he get the figure $1 trillion, anyway? It seemed arbitrary. Random. Unrealistic. Definitely not the product of an approved Conservatism Inc.™ think tank.
Kind of like former Navy secretary John Lehman’s 1980s goal of building a 600-ship navy. Not 597 ships. Not 602 ships. Why 600, exactly? Because it was a nice, round number and made for a catchy slogan. Because it was a clear political marker. Because if Congress had been left to devise the plan, something unrelated to the nation’s needs—and likely far less substantial—would have been the result. Yet, somehow, the conservative talking heads of the day were on board with that.
Other major Trump pledges were similarly visceral. It seemed wrong to the president that Americans consume so many products manufactured overseas. Why? It just did. The response to the reality was visceral. Voters shared this feeling. If America was a great nation, it should be the kind of manufacturing colossus it once was. So, he promised it would be. It was just right. The same went for putting coal miners back to work. Why? American coal miners ought to be mining coal.
Scott Adams noticed the evident brilliance of Trump’s constant references to out-of-work coal miners as “our miners.” He saw marketing genius in that. Maybe so. On the other hand, it’s just possible that Trump is authentic in this way, and that many Americans share many of his sensibilities.
Many Europeans, and Americans too, responded to the parade idea with derision, even revulsion. Not Macron, but Kim Jong-un or Leonid Brezhnev came to their minds. What kind of bent leader would propose a show of military might? Dwight D. Eisenhower, for one: the parade at his first inauguration ceremonies included 22,000 military personnel, including a cannon capable of firing a nuclear weapon. The parade at his second included troops, rockets, and tanks.
Scour the media, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find reference to Ike. There’s a reason for that: this fellow Trump just repels the Left, in America and abroad. Polite people don’t discuss such things as the president emphasizes in the faculty lounge or at the boarding school class reunion. Pride in the military! God forbid their kids should join the Army. Hillary Clinton would not have held a military parade.
No, the kind of people who like that kind of thing are the same kind who disproportionately join the military, wave the flag, and want their country to have borders. They are the ones who would never dream of taking a knee for the National Anthem. They are also the same kind of people who tend to vote in midterm elections—and who voted for Donald Trump.
Parades are a regular part of military life. Civilians do not see much of that, however. In 2018, a small and declining share of the American population has military experience, and so a grand military parade would be novel for them. The last that come to mind followed victory in the Gulf War. I know: I attended the Chicago parade in which General Colin Powell participated.
There were also grand military parades after the Spanish-American War and the Civil War. They were patriotic occasions akin to fireworks displays. Hearing the Usual Suspects criticize the idea of a military parade makes me find the idea increasingly attractive. Something in all of us just loves a parade.