U.S. President Donald Trump is planning a glory-strutting extravaganza, a pulsating military parade to showcase American power. Critics are up in arms. It's what autocrats do, they say. Shades of Pinochet or Kim Jong-un, who has such a spectacle, or Vladimir Putin. He has one too.
The Russian leader brought back the parade from the Soviet era. Then it was a celebration for the Soviet worker and the military rolled into one. Though the proletariat masses had little to celebrate – "They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work" was the barb – they loved the bristling pageants.
As the missiles, tanks and hard-faced armies made their way through Red Square, legions of proud faces (I was a Moscow correspondent at the time) looked on. It didn't matter that the Soviet military's latest feat was defeat – it being the Afghanistan pull-out. Mr. Putin, a KGB officer at the time, could see how self-aggrandizement worked.
Donald Trump didn't get his idea from the Russians. It was from watching the Bastille Day parade in France last year with President Emmanuel Macron."A tremendous thing for France," Mr. Trump called it. "We're going to have to try and top it."
And one can bet, despite all the naysaying, that he will.
For the Barnum & Bailey President it's all about the show. You can imagine him pounding his chest atop the reviewing stand as his war machine rolls up Pennsylvania Avenue.
He – the same guy who was the recipient of five Vietnam war deferments – uses patriotism as his main appeal. Those who don't cheer the country aren't just unpatriotic. They're traitors. He said as much following his State of the Union address. Democrats who did not stand up and clap, he stated, could be considered guilty of "treason."
It sounded – All hail Caesar! – straight out of a demagogue's playbook.
Mr. Trump appears to fancy himself as a President and a monarch rolled into one. If Britain can have its royal pageantry, if France can have its Bastille Day, if Russia can have its show of force, why can't the most powerful country on Earth pay tribute to its brawn?
In Canada, where the small-mindedness is such that prime ministers have to fret over costs for residence repairs, such displays have no place. Even the country's 150th birthday didn't stir much excitement.
The U.S. had its last military parade in 1991 when, following the Gulf War, 8,800 troops paraded through the streets. The first George Bush to become president was at the helm. His son tried on some braggadocio after the Iraq war with a "Mission Accomplished" ceremony on an aircraft carrier. He probably cringes every time he thinks about it.
Mr. Trump needs a reason for a big parade and he has one. This year marks the 100th anniversary of America's contribution to winning the First World War. If the parade succeeds, he'll want such extravaganzas to be annual.
Opposition to the idea doesn't stop with the Democrats. Several military men appeared on Fox News of all places to say the armed forces have better things to do. "We don't parade," said Gen. Jack Keane. "We train and fight, all right?"
There is no shortage of tributes to the military in this country. If anything they're overdone. It's rare when you go to a political or sporting event without witnessing a military tribute of some kind.
But Mr. Trump sees political advantage in paying the hyper-patriot card while trying to paint the Democrats as down on the country. As for critics who complain of an imperial presidency, that's of no bother to Mr. Mar-a-Lago. Historians have been warning of its advent ever since Arthur Schlesinger published a book, The Imperial Presidency, in 1973.
The people don't seem overly concerned. In Mr. Trump's case, pomp, circumstance and narcissism are not having any devastating impact – he's rising in the polls. He's a blowhard whose bark, thus far, seems worse than his bite. He hasn't started a war with North Korea or banned Muslims or shelved NAFTA (yet) or cut loose from NATO.
The military parade plan is right out of the bark stream. All show. If he wants one they should let him have it. The piling on of patriotism is one of the less offensive things he does.