How about a Parade of Ideas?

So everyone knows by now that President Trump craves a big ol’ military parade.  His motives are anyone’s guess, and virtually everyone has guessed.  Possibly he’s eager to flex American might for international consumption.  Possibly it’s for domestic optics, giving him a stage to look presidential and pro-military, and, more importantly, for the military to look pro-Trump.  Possibly it’s because the guy likes television and thinks a parade would make for good television. Or possibly he just likes parades.  Who knows with this guy?

The inspiration for Trump’s proposal is as murky as his motives.  Presumably the original inspiration is the Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France.  One cannot be sure.  Given Trump’s evident admiration of despotic strongmen (think: Presidents Putin and Duterte) perhaps his proposal wasn’t taken from the French at all but from more dubious sources.

The United States has held military parades in its past but they’re not a practice we’ve followed in decades.  As an ongoing concern—rather than as a relic of WWII-era nostalgia–military parades evoke a vaguely thuggish un-American vibe.

Which for Trump is pretty unusual.  Not the thuggish part but the un-American part. It’s ironic and unfortunate that the one foreign practice he wants to nick is such a lousy one.  Would that it were instead, say, single-payer healthcare or paid family leave.

Trump’s America First mantra isn’t just about trade and the economy; it’s a generalizable one-size-fits-all attitude that unabashedly favors everything American and assumes that a proper global conversation consists of the United States lecturing while the rest of the world takes notes.  Trump’s jingoist bloviating is one reason (surely among many) for why global approval of U.S. leadership has dramatically plummeted to historical lows in Trump’s first year.

That’s unfortunate. American respect for world opinion and the respect of world opinion for America are mutually reinforcing.

Distrust of “foreign” ways and of foreign opinion more generally has always been an important strain in American political thought.  For decades it has been the prevailing theme in conservative thought, and under Trump it is dogma.  Which, again, is unfortunate.  An enlightened self-interested stance toward world opinion does not require anti-American self-loathing or misty-eyed sentimentality toward all things Scandinavian.  But it does require that American leadership act on the reality that the United States exists in a world of nations that cannot be walled off, literally or metaphorically.  It requires recognizing that American interests are best advanced in cooperation with allies, and that that cooperation is best secured through reciprocity, not coercion or rhetorical belittlement.

Indeed, in competition with the American current of instinctual isolationiism that characterizes so much of American history, there has also always existed a more internationally-minded crosscurrent. Americans have long benefitted from a venerable if modest tradition of learning about their own country through the writings of insightful foreign-born “outsiders” who have provided commentary on the U.S.—Crèvecœur, Thomas Paine, Burke, Tocqueville, Dickens,  Chesterton, Heidegger, and Baudrillard to name a few.  How these various authors have depicted the United States has not always been flattering, but Americans are better for having read their works openly and critically.Though we associate this more cosmopolitan crosscurrent with our post-WWII history, traces of it are identifiable even at the founding.  Note, for example, the following striking passage from The Federalist.

“An attention to the judgment of other nations is important to every government for two reasons: the one is, that, independently of the merits of any particular plan or measure, it is desirable, on various accounts, that it should appear to other nations as the offspring of a wise and honorable policy; the second is, that in doubtful cases, particularly where the national councils may be warped by some strong passion or momentary interest, the presumed or known opinion of the impartial world may be the best guide that can be followed.”—Federalist NO. 62

Here Publius asserts that American rulers must attend to international opinion not simply because it’s prudent to do so or to wield influence but because—gasp—Americans can actually learn and benefit from the wisdom of others.  What makes the passage all the more remarkable is that the United States was the world’s only republic at the time of this writing.  Publius was calling for American to attend to monarchies and aristocracies for guidance.  Today in an increasingly liberal, educated, globalized, and democratic world, we have more reason than ever to listen to the opinion of our peers and, where appropriate, to be open to their counsel.

Just not to a military parade.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Michael Bailey
Michael Bailey
About Michael Bailey
Michael is Associate Professor of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, GA. His academic publications address the American Founding, the American presidency, religion and politics, and governance in liberal democracies. He also writes on popular culture, and his articles on, among other topics, patriotism, Church and State, and Kurt Vonnegut, have been published in Prism and Touchstone. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas in Austin, where he also earned his BA. He’s married and has three children. He joined OTB in November 2016.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Well, for those here who do not read anything outside of the NY Times, the US forces, in conjunction with NATO and regional forces, have run ISIS out of over 90% of the territory they once controlled. A parade after a win is traditional.

    Yes, Trump tweeted so the MSM missed that Trump had given the field commanders their head to defeat the enemy. This first entailed a repatriation of the lawyer brigades that Obama “augmented” the field units with.

    ISIS beaten, U.S. troops reportedly start Iraq drawdown

    FEB 5, 2018 7:00 AM EST WORLD
    CBS/AP

    And despite the 8 yr hiatus, the will to win is returning to Afghanistan

    Top military advisers all the way up to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis say they can accomplish what two previous administrations and multiple troop surges could not: the defeat of the Taliban by Western-backed local forces, a negotiated peace and the establishment of a popularly supported government in Kabul capable of keeping the country from once again becoming a haven to any terrorist group.

    That’s from November 2017

    What’s the NY Times view Feb 1, 2018

    In Afghanistan’s Unwinnable War, What’s the Best Loss to Hope For?

    So we should have a parade to celebrate the success of our troops before the NY Times gets its way.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    About 40% of the country would tell you we are more respected under Trump. If you showed them data, they’d call it fake news. And the President* is probably in that 40%.

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  3. Matt Bernius says:

    @JKB:

    And despite the 8 yr hiatus, the will to win is returning to Afghanistan.

    I ask this in all sincerity, what does winning, or rather “won,” look like in Afghanistan?

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  4. @Matt Bernius:

    what does winning, or rather “won,” look like in Afghanistan?

    That’s a question that neither the British nor the Soviets were able to answer.. And neither can we.

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  5. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    And despite the 8 yr hiatus, the will to win is returning to Afghanistan

    The last I heard Charlie Sheen was ‘winning.’

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  6. matt bernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    That’s a question that neither the British nor the Soviets were able to answer.. And neither can we.

    That tends to be my take. As I heard someone talk about recently, the Taliban is both a military and a cultural force. We can easily defeat the military component. The cultural aspect is entirely another issue.

    And given that at the beginning of the war we made a decision against re-integration, we’ve largely taken the position that the future of Afghanistan cannot include the Taliban.

    I’m not sure if that future can be reached in this generation. So if that’s part of the “won” condition, then there is no winning for at least another decade.

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  7. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    1) ISIS was run out of Iraq by the Kurds, an Obama policy. We are now busy with our traditional betraying of friends and allies as theTurks hammer the Kurds.

    2) ISIS was run out of Syria by Russians and Assad’s forces. We did just about nothing. This, too, is a continuation of Obama policy.

    3) We are not winning in Afghanistan. We were never going to win. And thanks to Trump’s imbecility we are now in a pissing match with Pakistan’s government – a government that can shut us down in Afghanistan any old time it chooses to.

    4) Trump has done serious damage to NATO and to our special relationship with the UK.

    5) American prestige has dropped like a cinderblock across the world, and thanks again to Trump’s imbecility, we’ve handed Pacific trade to China.

    6) US intelligence can no longer be trusted thanks to Trump’s reckless disregard of every normal security measure. He handed Russians Israeli secrets in an oval office babble. He had diners at Mar-a-lago using their iPhone lights to help Trump read top secret intel on NK. His WH is full of staffers who’ve never been vetted – for example a wife-beater.

    So, sure: let’s have a big parade to celebrate the end of the United States as a respected global hegemon. The last cohort in the parade should be Chinese army. Be sure to reserve good seats for the Russians and plenty of vodka so they can toast the greatest Russian intelligence coup ever.

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  8. Tyrell says:

    Try these ideas: Fusion power plant online by 2022. Interstate highway rebuild with separate lanes for trucks, smart lanes, imbedded lighting, ice melters.
    Rebuild electrical grid that is vulnerable to total destruction by solar storms. Warp drive type space travel – already being developed!
    How about those for size?
    Interesting news: Google Chrome hacked!

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  9. teve tory says:

    Try these ideas: Fusion power plant online by 2022.

    Former physics guy here–it would be hard to get a new fission plant online by 2022. Since we don’t know how to make a self-sustaining fusion reactor at all, that’s out of the question.

    Interstate highway rebuild with separate lanes for trucks, smart lanes, imbedded lighting, ice melters.

    Fine idea, but the GOP isn’t going to approve hundreds of billions per year in new infrastructure spending. Non starter. Plus we are in the childhood/adolescence of self-driving cars. Let’s wait to see what those end up requiring before we do the rebuild.

    Rebuild electrical grid that is vulnerable to total destruction by solar storms.

    See above.

    Warp drive type space travel – already being developed!

    No it isn’t.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    @teve tory:
    Physics guy, eh? I actually need a physics guy to act as consultant to a book series I’m starting which will of course murder the laws of physics because: story. But I’d like to have an advisor to help me talk the talk. If you’re interested: michaelreynoldsgrant AT g mail. It pays nothing. I’ll give you a credit but then again, you may prefer to remain anonymous.

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  11. Ben Wolf says:

    Trump’s America First mantra isn’t just about trade and the economy; it’s a generalizable one-size-fits-all attitude that unabashedly favors everything American and assumes that a proper global conversation consists of the United States lecturing while the rest of the world takes notes.

    This has been American policy since the end of World War II. But if you can produce a brief list of situations in which the U.S. has “listened” I’m willing to think about it.

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  12. Michael Bailey says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    I think what you highlight points to a serious problem with my little post, which isn’t so much its wrongness as its unfalsifiability. I suspect that any list I give you might be unsatisfying. Still, I appreciate what you write and has considerable merit.

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Ben Wolf: Top of the head, recent, and topical – think Obama managed to put the Iran nuke treaty together without listening to both Iran and our allies?

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    @teve tory:

    Interstate highway rebuild with separate lanes for trucks, smart lanes, imbedded lighting, ice melters.
    Fine idea, but the GOP isn’t going to approve hundreds of billions per year in new infrastructure spending.

    With the fracking GOP in charge, I’d be happy if they’d fix the potholes.

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  15. michael reynolds says:

    @gVOR08:
    Or to give a less salutary example: Libya.

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  16. TM 01 says:

    Maybe he’s trying to make nice with Chuck Schumer, who had the same idea a few years ago.

    Eh?

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  17. Tyrell says:

    @teve tory: Thanks for the information. You’ve got me revved up faster than Richard Petty at Daytona.
    Okay – fusion: maybe not 2022, but there should be a plant by 2030. “The long wait for fusion power may be coming to an end” NBC News, mach. Science: 12-29-2017. Also, the takamak electromagnet reactor that is in England and “will bring fusion power in a few years, not decades.”
    NASA: new “EM drive, the impossible engine works, could change space travel forever” Jesus Diaz (quantum vacuum plasma thruster engine works!)
    “NASA’s new ION thruster engine is breaking some important records” Brad Jones, Futurism
    And look at the incredible SpaceX. Their ultimate goal is to enable people to travel to other planets – and they are well underway to meeting that goal.
    “If people were meant to fly, God would have given them wings”
    “Go to the moon by 1970? Kennedy must have a screw loose!”
    “If we can dream it, we can build it”
    I won’t be around to see it, but I think that breakthroughs will occur and make interstellar travel common by 2050. What we see on “Star Trek” will be far surpassed by 2030. “Warp drive!’
    “To the stars and beyond”
    Richard Petty – NASCAR champion, winner of 200 races – a record that will never be broken.

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  18. Ben Wolf says:

    @gVOR08: I think that proves the point: look how politically unpopular the JPCoA was and is in Washington, with his own party cooperating with Republicans to sabotage it. Obama gave an excellent interview in the Atlantic in which he talked about “the Washington Playbook” in which diplomacy is to be forgone in favor of exercise of power, and of his own education in this regard. Obama did accomplish something not only bold in a way that’s become extremely rare in U.S. policy, but also places the security of the American people above other considerations.

    What I find most striking, and admittedly this is my own perception, is its extraordinary departure from how things are routinely done, and indeed since he’s left office we’ve gone back to exercise of force to implement our will. Trump represents an escalation even over the previous bomb-happy consensus that set half the planet on fire, and beyond a tiny group of Democrats in the House and a couple of Republican non-interventionists, no one in elected office seems to have a problem with this.

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  19. @JKB: Nice way to derail a thoughtful post.

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  20. gVOR08 says:

    @matt bernius:

    That tends to be my take. As I heard someone talk about recently, the Taliban is both a military and a cultural force. We can easily defeat the military component. The cultural aspect is entirely another issue.

    Back when we started this somebody pointed out that Taliban isn’t an organization, it’s a lifestyle, and going into Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban is like going into Georgia to defeat the rednecks.

    This started as a punitive expedition to get Al Qaeda and Sammy bin Laden. Somehow it morphed into a crusade to defeat the Taliban.

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