During the first two weeks of July, Canada, the United States and France celebrate their national holidays. Each of these nations celebrates its beginnings in ways that reflect the national heritage. The populace of each country, whatever their political beliefs and diverse backgrounds, for at least a day, set these aside in common salute to a nation they cherish.
Now, south of the border, comes a president who has sought to transform the nature of this day of national unity and common pride. Donald Trump has chosen to use executive power to transform Independence Day, July 4, into an instrument serving his narcissism and campaign for re-election.
Presidents of the United States traditionally have played a subdued role in the country’s celebration of its distinction. It has been seen as the people’s holiday, to celebrate as they see fit, in a myriad of festivities across the land. While there has long been a celebration on the great public mall in Washington, D.C., with the usual fanfare and fireworks, it has not been the focal point of the commemoration, let alone an occasion for presidential self-aggrandisement.
Now, Trump has seen fit to exploit the day to suit his own purposes. If Samuel Johnson’s famous aphorism that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” may sometimes overstate the case, it is certainly fitting here. Trump, after witnessing the grand military parade on Bastille Day July 14, in France, came home determined to institute a replica of such on July 4. Budgetary considerations and lack of enthusiasm for the idea prevailed, but now Trump comes up with an ersatz facsimile.
What Trump does not recognize is that the French parade is fitting for France, given its history. Its soil has been invaded so often, its military challenged against all odds to resist would-be conquerors, that to demonstrate French military prowess is a fitting way to rally its people to, at least on this day, collectively take pride in the defense of the nation and the preservation of its democracy. No President of France, moreover, has ever made himself the centrepiece of the event or used it to give a speech so as to glorify his administration.
For Trump to have tanks stationed in the vicinity of the Lincoln Memorial, that secular temple dedicated to the American values embodied by that leader, is an atrocity. To co-opt the leaders of the military services to participate in this latest Trumpian extravaganza is to be impervious to the need to separate the military from political campaigns, however camouflaged.
The United States has no need to celebrate Independence Day in this way. Trump has a need, demonstrated throughout his tenure, to demonstrate that he has replaced P.T. Barnum as impresario of the “greatest show on Earth.” Fireworks, fine, but using military props is not to celebrate the greatness of the nation but to try to exalt Donald J. Trump, who wishes he had the kind of power that dictators, large and petty, have been able to muster.
The unscrupulous manipulation of July 4 by the U.S. president besmirches the American heritage. Tune in on July 14 to witness the kind of parade that at once reflects a nation’s heritage and displays military capacity while enlisting all the nation’s people in the exaltation of the struggle for liberty and democracy.