The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

No, Trump’s Tanks Are Not a Scandal

President Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 26, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Happy Independence Day Eve! There won’t be a Morning Jolt tomorrow or July 5.

Tanks for the Memories

I don’t think having tanks displayed in public is automatically a sign that we are sliding into a dictatorship, or, as former CIA analyst Nada Bakos contends “In a democracy, a military show of force is an indicator things aren’t going well.”

But it’s not a military show of force, and nothing in Washington tomorrow is meant to be threatening or intimidating to anyone — other than anybody who would seek to harm Americans. Despite what you’ve been hearing, the tanks will be “on display” but not in a parade, at least according to the most recent reports: “The vehicles will not be moving, thereby reducing the chance of damaging local infrastructure.”

Come on. This isn’t a Trump scandal. If the president’s tank and military-hardware fixation turns into a bigger public recognition and appreciation for our men and women uniform, this is the most positive Trump scandal ever. If you see a tank on the mall and people taking pictures of it as a “an indicator things aren’t going well,” what do you think of the cannons outside the Maryland State House building? (For a lot of years, my sons saw them as just another object to climb on.) Cannons and artillery have been displayed as part of memorials in Brookline, Pa.; North Haven, Conn.; Pulaski Square in Cleveland; and you can probably think of others. American tanks are still displayed as part of the war memorials on the battlefields of France and in Bastogne, Belgium. Are they still part of some “show of force” that indicate things aren’t going well? If you go to the War Memorial in Seoul, South Korea, you’ll see 17 different tanks on display. Is that an indicator that things aren’t going well in that country?

The reason we find military parades passing by the reviewing stand of a dictator menacing is because those parades are run by dictators, and many times those dictators have demonstrated a willingness to use brutal force against their own people, with no competing powers or  constitutional limits upon that use of force. France does a big military parade on Bastille Day. Nobody’s worried about Emmanuel Macron becoming an authoritarian dictator.

(And for everyone screaming Trump is a dictator, the Census Bureau just announced it was printing up the census forms without the citizenship question. If Trump was a dictator, he wouldn’t acquiesced to the Supreme Court ruling! Dictators don’t worry about losing in courts! Dictators don’t lose midterm elections! Dictators don’t worry about their own reelection!)

It’s supposed to be a scandal that nearly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees from the National Parks Service is going toward the costs of tomorrow’s parade. Those of us who go back and check will see that the victory parade for the Persian Gulf War cost $12 million back in 1991; adjusted for inflation that’s about $22 million. (Oddly, a later article in the same source, the Washington Post, said the cost for the whole parade was $10 million.)

People enjoyed it back then:

John and Barbara Haiduk, of Dallas, went to the parade Saturday and returned to the Mall yesterday.

“This is kind of like seeing celebrities,” Barbara Haiduk said. “You hear about Apaches, Patriots and the Bradley {fighting} vehicles, but you never get to see them. The troops were the heroes, but these were the tools.”

One other point: we’ve had many Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades, but we’ve never had a parade explicitly for our veterans of Afghanistan or Iraq. Some might argue we shouldn’t have one until our military commitments in those countries were over, but . . . we still had troops in Germany and Japan when the New York City Victory Parade was held in 1946. It may be that post-9/11 veterans don’t want a parade. (Somewhere out there, some vet is saying, “Instead of a parade, how about a Department of Veterans Affairs that gets back to me quickly instead?”)

A lot of people bring their own baggage to this issue:

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University history professor and expert on fascism, said Trump’s need to display military hardware is a feature of authoritarians throughout history. “He needs to colonize our lives. He needs to colonize our public spaces,” she said, adding that it was “dismaying” that the Pentagon this year failed to thwart Trump’s impulses. “The military has been domesticated. I think the will to resist him has evaporated.”

The only time the job of the military is to “resist” the commander-in-chief is when he gives an unlawful order, and whatever you think of having a military parade, it’s not an unlawful order.

What is not acceptable is having the Republican National Committee distributing tickets to an event associated with the armed forces and Independence Day. The event is being paid for by taxpayers, thus it should be open to all or, if that would be too complicated, provide tickets to service members and their families, or some other noteworthy and deserving group — special-needs families, etc.

The New York Times: America Is Just Okay. The Washington Post: Fireworks Are Bad.

A day after the New York Times created a video declaring America is “just okay,” the Washington Post runs a column trashing fireworks, declaring, “fireworks are America’s favorite face exploding, dog torturing, bird murdering way to celebrate its birthday.”

We get it, America’s columnists. One easy way to generate a ton of traffic is to declare “America stinks” right around Independence Day. It fits in well with the “Everything is awful when Trump is president” philosophy that many of them have already embraced.

My time living in Turkey — 2005 to 2007 — recedes further and further into the rear-view mirror, but I really wish every American could live abroad for a little while, just for perspective. The Turks were by and large friendly and gracious hosts, but simultaneously they never let it be forgotten that I was a guest in their country. I wasn’t one of them, and never would be.

We have parts of the United States that are poor and opportunities are few. But you can go to Turkey — NATO ally, then-aspiring member of the European Union — and find rural parts where life hasn’t changed much since the internal-combustion engine appeared on the scene.

At the time, Turkey had a thriving public debate, but free expression has turned into a constant battleground in that country. In many countries, you probably wouldn’t be reading my words uncensored, and both of us would fear a knock on the door in the middle of the night, with the state deciding we had engaged in unacceptable discourse.

Of course America has problems. Many of us live in safety, but some Americans do not. Many of us enjoy economic opportunities to thrive and live a better life, but some Americans do not. Many of us enjoy some of the best schools, doctors, and hospitals in the world, but some Americans do not.

The things that are right about America do not erase what is wrong about America, and the things that are wrong about America do not erase what is right about America. That’s an oddly simple point, but one that a lot of people don’t want to hear.

ADDENDUM: Sales continue to be healthy, and we’re up to 40 reviews on Amazon, so once again, thank you, dear readers. Roughly 97.5 percent of the reviews are either five stars or four stars.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

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