Unlike most Francophiles, US President Donald Trump is not interested in wine or cheese or revolutionaries or existentialists. But despite his self-proclaimed success at making America great again, he has found some inspiration from the French. Trump wants a parade. If lesser militaries like France (on Bastille Day) or India (on Republic Day) display their soldiers and weapons, why shouldn’t the US?
Less than keen observers of America might believe that Trump’s order to the Pentagon to hold a military parade in Washington DC later this year would find many takers. After all, compared to most contemporary democracies, the US does seem to lay great store by the military, even in civilian life. Small town fairs and parades are marked by armed forces’ veterans marching. When running for office, including the highest in the land, candidates will tout their military experience and decry their opponents for the lack thereof. And if Hollywood is any indication, the people there love tales of martial valour and sacrifice, as do the awards committees. Yet, reportedly, lawmakers both Democrat and Republican, as well as many Americans are not enthused by Trump’s grand idea.
Americans, it seems, have seen through Trump’s ruse. What the US president wants is no ordinary parade — he wants a Triumph. “Great” ancient Romans would be honoured (or honour themselves) by throwing a grand military gala at state expense, which also contained free catering and entertainment for the voting plebians. Plebs and their representatives today, it seems, can see through the charade as a “waste of armed forces’ time and money”. The other, perhaps more important reason, lies in the symbolism a grand military parade evokes in the US. It harks back to the Soviet Union, the paternalistic statism of authoritarianism and later, the strongmen that ruled banana republics. Trump has been compared to the latter in the past. If he isn’t careful, his Triumph might end with him slipping on a banana peel.