Fouling the Fourth: Tanks but no tanks, Trump

Two Bradley Fighting Vehicles are parked nearby the Lincoln Memorial for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches on Independence Day, Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Two Bradley Fighting Vehicles are parked nearby the Lincoln Memorial for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches on Independence Day, Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

It takes a craven kind of genius to desecrate the Fourth of July, to turn a traditionally nonpartisan festival into a militarist MAGA rally with pseudo-Moscow trappings. As Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, remarked yesterday, the photos of 60-ton Army tanks trundling into Washington “reminds me of parades I used to attend in the Soviet Union.”

George Washington, when he stepped down as president in 1796, famously warned that unrestrained partisanship would imperil our nascent democracy; in his words, “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” But in 2016, an unwise minority of voters endorsed toxic continual mischief, so now we’ve arrived at the moment when not even our happiest uniting holiday is no longer safe.

Modern tradition requires that presidents keep a relatively low profile and allow the holiday — a declaration of independence from tyranny — to speak for itself. Barack Obama and George W. Bush marked the day by hosting naturalization ceremonies. Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter watched the fireworks from a White House balcony. Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson typically stayed at their ranches. Richard Nixon liked his home in Key Biscayne. John F. Kennedy watched fireworks in Hyannis Port. Dwight Eisenhower usually played golf somewhere. None felt compelled to seize center stage, declaring long in advance (as Trump tweeted in February) that the marquee Washington moment would feature “an address by your favorite President, me!”

None felt compelled to craft a cult-of personality event, complete with VIP tickets for party donors and apparatchiks, at a cost to taxpayers so steep that the National Park Service has been forced to swipe $2.5 million in federal money that had been earmarked for park improvements elsewhere in America. The total cost of the nonpartisan Washington celebration was typically $2 million; Trump’s taxpayer tab will dwarf that.

I could ask, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” But we all know the answer to that. The more pertinent question is how we as citizens should respond to his narcissistic performance art.

For starters, we should hope that the Abrams military tanks won’t wreck the Washington roads, as city officials have warned, because that would be one of the aptest metaphors for the Trump regime. (Trump also promised that the planned entertainment would feature “brand-new Sherman tanks.” Having apparently earned a history degree from Trump University, he’s unaware that Sherman tanks haven’t rolled since 1957.)

But, more broadly, perhaps the sanest citizen response is to simply tune out the event.

Barbecue your food and turn your phones off. Swim with your family and unplug the TV. If you do need to talk politics, debate whether Joe Biden is dead or alive. If you’re anywhere near Philadelphia and feel a patriotic impulse, visit Independence Hall and revel in what those white guys of various partisan persuasions managed to achieve, imperfect as their shared experiment has proven to be.

Better yet, to truly limn the meaning of the holiday, pick one of the Declaration of Independence signatories; read some of his orations and writings. Personally, I would recommend John Adams, who, at the age of 93, nostalgically reminisced that Americans of sharply different persuasions had united to ink the Declaration, and had “lived and acted together like a band of brothers.” Adams, at various points in his life, also said or wrote:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence…

Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide…

Power always sincerely, conscientiously, believes itself right. Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak…

Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases…

Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people…

The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty…

The jaws of power are always open to devour … Power must never be trusted without a check.

John Adams died on the Fourth of July, 193 years ago, but his sage advice lives on. Happy nonpartisan holiday!

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