A leftover from yesterday that raises an important question: Must the Resistance always be so “extra,” as the kids say?
To which they’d reply, I suppose, “Must Trump?”
There are many reasons to object to this event but “he’s threatening his critics with tanks” is not one of them unless you’re on MSNBC live for a panel chat and the other 20 reasons have already been covered.
The tanks aren’t the problem. It’s banana-republic-y to have them in the capital — if anything, July 4th should be a day to celebrate the fact that we don’t typically see tanks there — but tanks have been used in D.C. parades before. The problem is Trump staging a pageant on a national holiday with himself as the star and the military coopted as his co-star, right as the next presidential campaign is heating up, coincidentally. Jonathan Bernstein writes:
What’s worse than the partisanship is the central place of Trump in the celebration. The national holidays of the U.S. simply aren’t about the aggrandizement of the president, and it’s an excellent tradition that presidents typically haven’t taken part at all in the Washington Fourth of July events, much less hijacked them for their own use. It would be bad enough if Trump could be trusted to deliver a bunch of bland patriotic clichés in his planned address to the nation – even if all he did was read the Declaration of Independence – but the record is pretty clear that he isn’t capable of speaking to the nation’s democratic heritage, or in fact giving any kind of speech without his usual bluster and braggadocio. At any rate, the great leader presiding over a militaristic celebration of himself and the nation is what happens in authoritarian regimes, not in democracies.
It’s not true that he can’t deliver a speech without bluster. His speechwriters usually rise to the occasion, as they did during the D-Day ceremony this year, and he seems content to stick to the script when called upon to perform some ceremonial role. Odds are better than even that his remarks tomorrow will be appropriate to the moment and not some “Democrats love crime” stemwinder like you’d see at one of his rallies. But it’s true enough that keeping the president offstage on the Fourth is a nice tradition. We see too much of presidents as it is. In fact, we see too much of politicians as it is, a thought that occurred to me recently when my reading of a new Trump grievance-rant on Twitter was interrupted by a new Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grievance-rant on Twitter. Modern politicians, especially populists with large followings, are exhausting. And tomorrow, on a day that’s supposed to be about the country, we’re going to get another snoutful of one of them.
This is a special problem with Trump because he’s already freakishly inescapable in media and politics. Everything constantly returns to him because his whims change day by day. There’s no “administration” per se; there’s just whatever he wants to do at a given moment. If he wants to meet Kim Jong Un suddenly while he’s in South Korea or cancel a world-changing attack on Iran at the last minute after hours of preparation, that’s just how things roll. A DOJ lawyer admitted in court today that he learned that the Department would be continuing the fight for a citizenship question on the census from a presidential tweet this morning. Even this pageant was sort of spur-of-the-moment, which is why it might have trouble drawing people from the political and donor class who’d already made plans. Literally everything is about him, including Independence Day now. I alternate between thinking that that’s Trump nationalist impulse at work, equating himself with the country — he’s framed the Russiagate probe as a sort of “treason” — and thinking that it’s just his showman nature expressing itself. This is a guy who used to run a beauty pageant, remember, and now he gets to run a national pageant with himself as emcee and the U.S. military as special guest. In the end the “Trump” brand gets stamped on everything, even July 4th.
Sometimes I think he’s a tragic figure. If ever a man was born to be a Hollywood producer, where he could get rich, chase women, schmooze endlessly, and put on huge spectacles for entertainment, he’s the guy. He could have been Robert Evans! But he had to settle for being president. Tomorrow’s spectacle is the closest he’ll get to a Trump-produced extravaganza.
There are other reasons to dislike the pageant. Instead of getting day off to enjoy with their families, some servicemen will be forced to participate. (They’ve already received their “script,” apparently.) The Park Service is having to move money around to cover the cost. The event has turned partisan and swampy, with the RNC receiving tickets to lavish on well-heeled VIPs but the DNC being frozen out at last check. If I’m wrong about Trump sticking to the script tomorrow and he ends up turning a national celebration into a platform to attack his opponents, military personnel who are there will technically be in breach of ethics rules. Even if he doesn’t, the Pentagon is reportedly worried about politicization of the military if the event turns even more partisan.
Most basically, though, insisting on showcasing the military on a civic holiday dedicated to the nation writ large is an oddly militaristic gesture by a president who hasn’t been aggressive militarily. It’s absurd for Reid to warn about Trump threatening his critics when he won’t even pull the trigger on attacking Iran with the hawks all around him in the cabinet are begging him to do it. He doesn’t like using the military, to his great credit. But he loves the idea of “strength,” and that’s how he seems to conceive of America’s strength — in terms of military power. He’s not threatening anyone by bringing tanks in, he’s showing off what he thinks the most impressive thing about America is. But as I say, his speechwriters will almost certainly rise to the occasion. Here’s hoping he doesn’t go off-script.