Donald Trump was visibly green with envy two years ago in Paris as he watched the flags flying and the troops marching down the Champs-Elysées, famous in song and story. He wanted a big parade too!
His Me Too! military extravaganza on July 4 brought out a dragoon of tanks, planes, soldiers, sailors, and Marines.
He had his crowd, but the rain came down hard on his parade, and the raindrops running down the bullet-proof glass separated his star turn from his audience and the television cameras to which he was reaching out. It was not like Paris.
He had wanted a military parade at his 2017 inauguration with all the tanks and trimmings, but he backed down when the Army told him it would cost $98 million. He wanted a military parade last year on Veterans’ Day, but everyone threw up their hands when they remembered the $98 million. This year he waited until the last minute and wouldn’t tell anyone what it would cost. But you saw the two huge Jumbotron video screens and you know what they cost. You can figure from there. The catch is he took a bundle from the admission fees you pay to keep up our national parks. He had reserved seats up front for his big donors, but you know where we stood.
Day in and day out, even on the Fourth of July, it’s humiliating to see how much Trump wants to be on stage, with the star on his dressing room door and the spotlight full on his face. Even the famous dictator Julius Caesar didn’t take the laurels until they were offered. But Trump brought this forward and said his piece.
It was to be a made-for-television moment in which the nation’s commander in chief stood, like General George Patton, surrounded by the forces that he leads. Trump’s red-white-and-blue stage last week stood beside a flank of huge combat tanks. Except for the rain, it would have looked like those big moments in the movie “Patton” — with General Trump up there at the front, then the troops and the tanks, tanks, tanks.
As far back as the year I was born, the demagogues and the tyrants have enjoyed their enormous military processions, and Trump ached for what his friends had — Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un. He imagined the goose-stepping rows of stiff-necked and jack-booted soldiers, the miles-long nuclear missiles on their funereal black caissons, the flights of fighter aircraft overhead.
But he caught a lot of flak from soldiers who recognized that he was crossing a line by militarizing what has always been a hot dogs and fireworks non-political observance of our Independence Day. “Put troops out there so we can thank them — leave tanks for Red Square,” grouched Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the retired four-star Marine general who headed the U.S. Central Command. “Tanks aren’t props. They are weapons of war,” said Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and West Point, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Two miles down the mall, on the Capitol steps, the usual show went on, with the symphony orchestra, the entertainers, the fireworks, and the bright-faced kids. They actually escaped the rain that night.
Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books, including the novel “Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx.” He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.