In a Fourth of July spectacle in Washington that blurred the lines between patriotic celebration and political preening, President Donald Trump thankfully steered clear of turning his speech on the Washington Mall Thursday into a brazen re-election pitch.
Maybe that’s because if he had gone into full campaign mode, he and the organizers of his one-hour “Salute to America” might have been stuck with the still undisclosed cost of his controversial decision to showcase our nation’s military on a day when partisan politics is usually shelved and national unity emphasized.
Trump said he got the idea for the military exhibition while seeing a similar display of soldiers and their weaponry while attending France’s Bastille Day parade in 2017. But that Western European ally aside, this kind of gratuitous and expensive display of tanks, fighter planes and men and women in uniform is something usually associated with authoritarian nations, such as Russia, China and North Korea.
The American way has been traditionally more along the lines of “speak softly and carry a big stick,” an expression popularized more than a century ago by another U.S. president, Teddy Roosevelt. The idea is that, when it comes to foreign policy, the U.S. doesn’t have to beat its chest by putting its fighting force on public display. The nations of the world already know what America is capable of when it is pressed into war.
More importantly, the men and women in the U.S. military are not supposed to be used — even as a backdrop — to try to support any one party or any one politician. Their independence from politics is one of the distinguishing features between a democratic, civilian-led nation and a militaristic one.