Since the time he took office, there have been various reports of President Trump wanting a military parade. There was some talk of a military parade for his inauguration. While those plans fell through, the president was apparently enthralled by a military parade in Paris for Bastille Day during a visit to France. And now, as the Washington Post reported last night, it looks like the wheels are being set in motion for a parade sometime later this year.
Peter Feaver, a political scientist at Duke University and former official in the Bush administration, doesn’t see much to be concerned about. Feaver told the Post, “Who flipped the coin for the Super Bowl on Sunday? It was Medal of Honor winners. Why? The military brings us together.”
Feaver is one of the leading scholars of American civil-military relations and has firsthand experience with the issue serving on the National Security Council. So there are good reasons to follow his lead in treating Trump’s desire for a military parade as much ado about nothing.
First, Feaver is right that support for the military is one of the few things that unify Americans across party lines. As I’ve written elsewhere, research by Pew has found that the military is one of the few public institutions that retain the trust of the American people. But the question is whether this trust represents healthy respect or uncritical reverence. Given how few people have any tangible connection to the military, it is more likely that it is the latter. As historian Douglas Brinkely, who is also quoted in the Post piece, notes, the American people are not lacking in respect for the military. A parade is therefore only likely to stoke more uncritical reverence.
Second, the Trump administration has a disturbing tendency to politicize the military. He has used occasions such as the commissioning of an aircraft carrier for partisan ends. It seems less likely that the parade will used as an occasion to bring the American people together than it will be used to further identify the president’s personal and partisan agenda with an institution that the American people already celebrate on a regular basis.