It's bad enough that President Donald Trump plans to make Thursday's national July Fourth celebration all about him, in defiance of longstanding tradition that has kept partisan politics out of the celebration. But now he's pushing for the inclusion of tanks and other military imagery. Old Soviet Russia shouldn't be the template for a peace-loving democracy to celebrate its birth.
Trump, who likes to denigrate war heroes who served when he didn't, nonetheless covets the military trappings of high office. Recall his attempt last year to stage a military parade — columns of soldiers and tanks filling the streets of Washington — before the expense and philosophical outrageousness of it sunk the plan.
Then came the revelation in May that Trump would turn the nonpartisan July Fourth celebration on the National Mall into a self-aggrandizing spectacle, addressing the nation as if he were a unifying figure instead of the most divisive one in modern U.S. history. Turning the annual celebration into the backdrop for a presidential speech would be a bad idea even under a responsible, dignified president. Under this one, it's stomach-turning.
Now Trump wants to combine his self-centered celebration with his earlier visions of a banana republic-style military review. He says Abrams tanks, "brand new Sherman tanks," Bradley Fighting Vehicles or other military equipment will be on parade. (There is no such thing as a "brand new" Sherman tank, which the military hasn't used since the 1950s.)
This is in addition to the changes Trump has already made, including lengthening the event to a point that the National Park Service will have to pay workers overtime. There will be a flyover with military aircraft, including one of the jetliners that serves as Air Force One.
The Washington Post reports that Trump's level of hands-on involvement has extended to personally weighing in on the pyrotechnics. Presumably, the other little things on the president's plate — farmers struggling with his trade tariffs, the continued threat of Russian election-meddling, potential war with Iran — will have to wait until he gets that starburst display just right.
What all this will cost is anyone's guess; the administration is refusing to provide estimates. District of Columbia officials worry about the damage the tanks could do to streets. The National Park Service is having to deal with all this even as it struggles to find funding for truly important priorities like maintenance and disaster recovery.
As good as those reasons all are to dial back the militarization of the event, the best reason remains the one that helped finally kill Trump's tank-parade nonsense last year: America's greatness isn't displayed in its military hardware, but in its ideals. It's unlikely Trump will ever understand that, but those around him do have an obligation to head off this desecration of America's birthday.
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