For President Trump, this is America — armored vehicles, soldiers marching in formation, and giant phallic symbols, capable of killing thousands, rolling down the streets of this nation’s capital. During a Monday meeting in New York with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Trump said, “We’re actually thinking about, Fourth of July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength.”
How Kim Jong Un of him.
Apparently, the president has been pondering this strange idea since July, when he was Macron’s guest at France’s Bastille Day celebration, what CNN called “a strategic show of friendship.” For Trump, a man enamored of pomp, pageantry, and masculine displays of power, that meant viewing a two-hour military parade down Paris’s Avenue des Champs-Élysées featuring horses, airplanes, helicopters, and thousands of French troops. Several times Trump leapt to his feet, applauded, and pointed to the sky like a delighted toddler.
He later told The New York Times that the event was “one of the most beautiful parades I have ever seen.” Now the president wants his own grandiose show of military might.
Let’s be clear. This has nothing to do with celebrating veterans or recognizing the sacrifices of the armed forces, including additional troops he wants to send to Afghanistan. It’s not a parade so much as an unambiguous warning to any and all bad actors that America is a closed and cocked fist ready to strike.
Trump isn’t interested in emulating France’s Bastille Day parade. He wants festivities to rival those hosted by the brutal men he admires, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His ideal, of course, is the kind of rigidly choreographed display — cheering crowds, goose-stepping soldiers, and missiles, instead of floats, on trailers — that seems to fill the streets of Pyongyang every other week.
Until his inaugural committee nixed the idea, Trump wanted a version of that in his inaugural parade. Days before he was sworn in, he told The Washington Post that part of “being a great president” means “being a great cheerleader for the country.” Except instead of pom-poms, Trump wanted to “display our military. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades.”
Trump, who loves the military so much that during the Vietnam era he received five deferments, including one for bone spurs in his heels, is smitten with the accoutrements of war. He has more than one general in his cabinet. He has referred to the armed forces as “my military.” Military displays equal strength, and being perceived as strong means everything to Trump. Nothing frightens him more than appearing weak. People with more time and degrees than me can ponder what that means, or trace a path from Fred Trump’s patriarchy to his son’s pathology. Whether it’s a political opponent or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it’s always a prime insult when he brands someone with that damning word. In Trump’s puffed-up world of dominating masculinity, to be weak is to be flaccid and feminized — and we all know how he feels about women.
If Trump thinks a military parade can intimidate Kim, he’s probably mistaken. Just as reckless and unstable as his American counterpart, the young North Korean dictator lives for provocations real or imagined. Like a B-movie gangster who reveals to an enemy the gun tucked in his holster, Trump wants to show off the weapons at his disposal, as if the world doesn’t already know that this nation has more destructive power than any other country.
What Trump really wants here and abroad is the adoration and respect that will forever loom beyond his grasp. Instead, he’ll host parades, make a show of flexing his military muscle, and like the dictators he admires, happily settle for being feared — to the world’s detriment and ours.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.