President Donald J. Trump demanded a military parade to celebrate America’s birthday on July 4th. He wanted it complete with tanks and fighter jets. And if that was not enough, he asked for flyovers from Air Force One, the Navy’s Blue Angels, F-35 stealth fighters, and Marine Helicopter Squadron One. Of course no thought was given to the damage that tanks and other military hardware could have on the National Mall, their significant operating costs, and the detrimental impact they could have on the surrounding area (forcing Reagan National Airport to close temporarily).
Air Force One alone costs more than $140,000 per hour to operate. The other requested military aircrafts cost some tens of thousands of dollars per hour. This is not to mention the cost of at least 300 service members, additional staff required to organize and run the event, and the crew needed to clean up afterwards (and Trump rallies are infamous for garbage). But the best part – this alleged multibillionaire didn’t offer to pay for it himself – the United States taxpayers are footing the bill. The National Park Service is even diverting some $2.5 million to help pay for it; money that could be used to help preserve and maintain America’s National Parks (that are often underfunded and understaffed).
The same President who bemoaned the costs of the Mueller Investigation found no issue with spending frivolously on a military parade largely focused on celebrating himself. Nobody reminded Trump that July 4th is America’s birthday, not his? Unfortunately this is simply the latest act in a pattern of behavior that has increasingly grown despotic and dictatorial. Trump has consistently placed his interests (and that of his family) over the interests of the country, and has routinely viewed himself above the very office he represents. These authoritarian antics beg the questions – what impact will his behavior have before he leaves office? What happens after? Will he even leave after he’s voted out or when his term is up?
Trump takes Theodore Roosevelt’s famous mantra – “Speak softly and carry a big stick” – and flips it on its head. His favorite form of governance is to tweet loudly and support it with no substance or action. The recent encounter between Trump and Kim Jong Un in the Korean Demilitarized Zone illustrates how he’d prefer to tweet and take photos with the most evil dictator in the modern world, but not back it up with any actions or agreements. The most powerful country gave North Korea a photo op and in effect, an aura of international legitimacy, for nothing in return. There were no agreements to denuclearize, no agreed pathways to lead in that direction, and of course, no pressure to recognize and fix human rights abuses (I wonder how Otto Warmbier’s family felt seeing Trump shake Kim’s hand?). Instead, both Trump and Kim received the reality show they both desired – no agreements, but plenty of pictures that could be used for propaganda.
This type of pandering to dictators and authoritarians is nothing new for Trump. He fawns over Putin and acts willfully blind toward Mohammed bin Salman (“MBS”), even when his own intelligence agencies say MBS ordered the killing of a Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Meanwhile, Trump ostracizes American allies across the world and encourages the dissolution of international bodies like the European Union and NATO.
Most concerning, however, is his attacks on journalists. Trump labels anyone giving him unfavorable or critical coverage as “fake.” His supporters then spring to attack with #FakeNews hashtags and verbal assaults. The freedom of speech and of the press is almost a religious doctrine in America – rights we hold so dear that they’re listed first in the Bill of Rights. Trump’s attacks on journalism undermines a core American institution, makes legitimate journalists targets, and could have the effect of chilling speech if it weren’t for brave reporters and publications. He exacerbates it by joking with Putin that they should “get rid” of journalists; jokes that someone like Putin has actually made reality in many cases. It’s one thing to disapprove of media coverage, it’s another to actively work to subvert them or joke about harming them – all core elements of a dictator’s playbook.
Trump truly believes he is the only person who can lead America right now. His followers – many of them Christian – are willing to look the other way and reconcile his vile behavior and authoritarian tendencies to get the ends they think only Trump can deliver: overturning Roe v. Wade, immigration controls, manufacturing jobs, and religious freedom. Any secular opinion or eccentric thought is viewed as a threat. Any person who isn’t white and comes from a different country must be here to take “their” job. Women should have no access to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, according to the great state of Alabama.
This deal with the devil has propped up a egocentric and sociopathic President. Not only are people being denied their legal right to asylum at the border, but they’re being put in concentration camps and being instructed to drink out of toilets. Is this how America welcomed the world to Ellis Island? As a nation of immigrants, is that how we want to treat other human beings who are just trying to realize a better life for their families? That’s what America has always been and should always be – a beacon of hope for those with dreams of something better.
Whether it’s through overt nepotism, blatant lies (starting with how many people attended his inauguration), or cozying up to other authoritarians, Trump has proved time and again that he’s all for Trump, not America. This is the core reason he’s unwilling to challenge Russia on election meddling. He’s afraid to discover that but for the actions of a foreign government, he would not be President. Someone needs to remind him of Lincoln’s words in the Gettysburg Address on how America is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The people empower America’s leaders; the leaders do not empower the people. This should be political science 101.
America does not need military parades to display its military might. It needs a President and government that act in its best interests and set an example of effective democracy for the world to emulate. At no time throughout history has humanity been more prosperous and reached higher levels of wealth than when democracies proliferated the world. But democracy is not granted automatically. It must be preserved, maintained, and consciously embodied by its citizens in order for it to survive and flourish.
We should certainly celebrate America’s beautiful experiment of democracy on the 4th of July, but without the military parades that pander to one man’s dictatorial tendencies. The National Park Service should focus on funding America’s incredible National Parks that stretch from sea to shining sea, not on helping tanks make their way down the National Mall. We should celebrate and give thanks to a country that maintains the rule of law, freedom of speech and press, and independent courts and judges. While America’s democratic institutions can probably withstand one man’s ego and narcissism, if permitted to continue, there could be devastating consequences to every ideal we hold dear. America, you’re better than that.