Trump celebrates with tanks and fighter planes

In synch: The US navy’s Blue Angels fly over the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

Is Donald Trump behaving like a tin-pot dictator? Last night, he turned the USA’s famous Independence Day celebrations into a military show of strength — with himself at the heart of them.

It all started in France on a summer’s day in Paris.

France’s new young president, Emmanuel Macron, had invited Donald Trump to the annual Bastille Day military parade. Macron had pulled out all the stops: 6,500 soldiers marched. France’s top military band, in gold-buttoned uniforms, even broke out into a medley by Daft Punk.

Trump was enthralled. At one point, he mouthed, “So good,” to Melania. Then, to Macron, he said, “We’re going to have to try to top it.”

Yesterday in Washington was the result.

The US president’s unique interpretation of the declaration of independence was on full display as he staged a militaristic, jingoistic and untraditional jamboree at the Lincoln memorial in Washington to celebrate the Fourth of July.

He relished introducing F-22 Raptors and a B-2 stealth bomber that roared loudly over the Washington monument, the reflecting pool and the Lincoln memorial. The rain-soaked crowd whooped, clapped, waved hats in the air and chanted, “USA! USA!”

The president, speaking behind rain-streaked, bulletproof glass screens, grinned widely and declared, “Great country!”

Although the military is a key component of American national pride, military parades are surprisingly rare. The last time there was a military parade in Washington was following the Gulf War in 1991.

One of the reasons presidents have generally eschewed these displays is the practical and financial costs of shipping military hardware across the country. Last night’s parade was estimated to have cost $2.5m.

And the associations are not good: in the cold war era, they reminded people of the Soviet Union’s Red Square celebrations. Now, they echo vast shows of strength in North Korea.

To Trump’s opponents, this is simply a tin-pot dictator living the dream. “It smacks of something you see in a totalitarian country,” said historian Douglas Brinkley. George Orwell wrote that: “Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.”

Trump opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter: “This is what authoritarians do: Donald Trump is taking $2.5 million away from our National Park Service to glorify himself with a spectacle of military tanks rolling through Washington.”

But many were supportive. Tom Meehan, 56, a retired entrepreneur, said: “I felt very patriotic. I loved it. Everybody out here in the rain, one country again. I feel more united than ever before. I think it was really wonderful, heartfelt, warm.”

Marching orders

This is terrifying, say some. Trump is following in the footsteps of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Kim Jong-un. And think of the money being wasted. Would it not be better spent on helping the poor?

What’s the problem? reply others. A “celebration of the men and women who give us freedom” is the opposite of a totalitarian government. And Trump was given the idea by France — hardly an illiberal tyranny under the jackboot of a deranged dictator.

You Decide

  1. Would you want your country to have a regular military parade?
  2. Does Donald Trump want to be a dictator?

Activities

  1. Define the term “national pride”. List ways in which it is shown, and discuss whether it is a good thing.
  2. Plan a military parade which you think could be suitable for 21st century Britain.

Some People Say...

“The goose-step is one of the most horrible sights in the world. It is an affirmation of pure power.”

George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair), English author (1903-1950)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Donald Trump has defended his celebrations in Washington amid criticism of its likely high price tag, and potentially partisan undertones. “The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!”
What do we not know?
The exact price tag. Still, CNN has estimated that the costs incurred by the federal government, as well as the city of Washington DC and other regional economies, will be in the millions of dollars. The final bill goes well beyond the cost of fuel and includes security and logistical costs. In addition, many of the planes are coming from much farther than “right next door”.

Word Watch

Bastille Day
Celebrated on 14 July every year, Bastille Day is France’s national day. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison during the revolution of 1789. The prison represented royal authority in the centre of the capital and was seen by revolutionaries as a symbol of oppression.
Fourth of July
Also known as Independence Day, has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution. On 2 July, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favour of independence, and two days later delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. From 1776 to the present day, 4 July has been celebrated as the birth of American independence.
Gulf War in 1991
The first Gulf War was fought between August 1990 and February 1991. It was a conflict between Iraq and 34 other countries, led by the United States. It was started when Iraq invaded its oil-rich neighbours, Kuwait.
North Korea
No country on Earth holds more military parades than North Korea. Often involving tens of thousands of people, they generally take place in the main square of the capital, Pyongyang. The next one is on Thursday and is a bid to upstage South Korea’s opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics, which takes place the day after.
Tin-pot dictator
An autocratic ruler with little political credibility, but with self-delusions of grandeur.
George Orwell
Orwell wrote this in his essay England Your England, which attempted to define the English as a people in the midst of World War Two.