President Donald Trump just canceled his much-ballyhooed military parade and is pointing the finger of blame at the local authorities in Washington D.C.
"The local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly) know a windfall when they see it. When asked to give us a price for holding a great celebratory military parade, they wanted a number so ridiculously high that I cancelled it. Never let someone hold you up!" Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday. "I will instead attend the big parade already scheduled at Andrews Air Force Base on a different date, & go to the Paris parade, celebrating the end of the War, on November 11th. Maybe we will do something next year in D.C. when the cost comes WAY DOWN. Now we can buy some more jet fighters!"
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is in charge of Washington D.C.'s government, took to Twitter to offer her own version of events.
"Yup, I’m Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC, the local politician who finally got thru to the reality star in the White House with the realities ($21.6M) of parades/events/demonstrations in Trump America (sad)," Bowser wrote on Twitter.
One day before Bowser's tweet, the Pentagon had estimated that Trump's planned military parade could cost as much as $90 million, according to The New York Times. This news immediately threw the fate of the parade into question, which Trump had planned for Veterans Day weekend on Nov. 10. As Trump's tweet indicates, despite Secretary of Defense James Mattis telling reporters on Thursday that "I guarantee you there’s been no cost estimate," the prohibitive expense of the parade eventually led to the decision that it be canceled.
There were other concerns about the military parade aside from its costliness. As Chauncey DeVega wrote in a piece for Salon in February, there is a dictatorial quality about military parades:
For an authoritarian, a military parade fulfills several roles.
It celebrates and announces the great leader's power by intimidating his foes both international and domestic.
The authoritarian leader is the literal physical embodiment of the State. He imagines himself to be strong and powerful. By implication, the military parade is a public display of that supposed truth.
Because they are "masculine" ideologies, fascism and other types of authoritarian ideologies rely upon and emphasize phallocentric imagery. Donald Trump is obsessed with the size of his penis: He has mentioned his "great" organ many times, both during interviews as well as presidential debates. A military parade is the logical extension of Trump and other right-wing ideologues' obsessions with masculine virility and potency.
Fascist and other authoritarian regimes embrace militant nationalism as one of their guiding principles.
As Wilhelm Reich, the psychoanalyst and student of Nazi Germany, so astutely observed, the military parade is a display of uniformity, coordinated movement and libidinal energy -- in total, a manifestation of right-wing aesthetics -- that provides emotional meaning and coherence for authoritarian regimes and their public.
The military parade is also an attempt by the authoritarian leader to shift attention away from scandals (here, the Robert Mueller investigation and Trump's likely collusion with Russia) as well as other failures both at home and abroad.
It is tempting to mock Trump's military parade as an example of his malignant narcissism and male insecurities. But to dismiss or make fun of Trump's military parade is also to diminish the threat posed by its potent symbolic politics and the social pathology and anti-democratic impulses shared by the tens of millions of Americans who voted Trump into office.
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Another piece of valuable commentary about Trump's military parade ambitions can be seen in a Vox piece by Richard J. Evans from February that discussed the event which inspired him to hold a military parade — namely, being impressed by a military parade in France for Bastille Day.
“It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,” President Donald Trump told reporters at the United Nations General Assembly, two months after he witnessed the celebration of Bastille Day on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on July 14. “It was military might,” he added.
“We’re going to have to try to top it,” he apparently joked to French President Emmanuel Macron, who was sitting nearby. But it was no joke. Now he has ordered the Pentagon to prepare his own parade, “like the one in France,” as one senior military official has recounted. However exorbitant the expense, it does indeed look like this might actually take place.
But the French parade has its own history — and many nuances in practice — that can’t simply be transplanted to the US. There are good reasons why the French parade is viewed in Europe and elsewhere differently from the raw displays of military force that Russia, China, and North Korea indulge in. With no similar tradition to draw upon, the US, if it mounts a military parade, risks looking more like one of those authoritarian regimes than like Republican France.
There are two details about Trump's proposed military parade that are particularly galling:
First, it is difficult to imagine a Democratic president being allowed to get away with even suggesting such an expensive frivolity. No one is saying that a military parade serves an important social function, or that anyone has called for it before Trump himself. If the president calling for such a costly pageant was a Democrat instead of a Republican, he or she would be endlessly berated for being a spendthrift who doesn't respect taxpayer money. Because the offender here is Trump, however, the willy-nilly attitude toward the public purse seems to be a non-issue.
Second, as my colleague Chauncey De Vega correctly noted, there is an undeniable whiff of fascism to Trump's desire for a military parade. It is the same part of his character that asked for military vehicles at his inauguration parade; it reflects his desire to be a strongman, and to use the military as a personal appendage for flexing that strength. These impulses are at best inappropriate, and at worst ominous, in the leader of a country that is ostensibly a democratic republic.