WASHINGTON — Military parades, “treasonous” opponents — do you sense a pattern here?

President Trump is such a master of the politics of distraction that everything he says and does is assumed to be a diversion from something more important, the Russia collusion issue above all.

It’s certainly true that in Trump’s exotic circus of scandal and outrage, many stories that would have engulfed earlier administrations roll right off the back of the news cycle. Consider, for starters, his profiting while president from his resorts and golf clubs, his alleged payoff of a porn star, and the resignation of the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over conflicts of interest.

On the substance of policy, he can govern largely by stealth. Discussion of the decisions his administration has made on a range of regulatory, environmental, labor, health care and tax matters gets pushed to the bottom of the public agenda.

It will thus be tempting to dismiss Trump’s desire to have a big military parade as yet another ploy to change the subject. Trump knows perfectly well that many liberals are uneasy with massive demonstrations of military strength, so some who might raise their voices in dissent could draw back out of fear that he is baiting them and that they’ll play into his hands. Trump clearly longs to be the lead figure on the reviewing stand gazing out on the tanks and missiles as a tribute to his own power, while casting his critics as unpatriotic foes of our men and women in uniform.

But this is precisely why his parade proposal should be treated as dangerous and not simply another bout of Trumpian ego enhancement. It comes within days of Trump’s charge that Democrats who did not stand and cheer him during his State of the Union address could be guilty of “treason.”

When a leader who often praises strongmen abroad defines routine political opposition as disloyalty to country and then suggests hauling out the military to march in our streets as he looks down from on high, friends of freedom should take notice. Those who challenge the portrayals of Trump as an authoritarian or an autocrat because our freedoms are still intact miss the point. In enduring democracies such as ours, liberty is eroded slowly by politicians who undermine the norms and practices that protect it. There is good reason why we have not made military parades a standard part of our patriotic repertoire.

Trump said he got this idea from France, our democratic ally whose Bastille Day military procession goes back 138 years. This gives him cover because spectacles of the sort Trump has in mind are associated less with free nations than with dictatorships in Russia, North Korea, China, and the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s.

The United States, born in republican opposition to royalist rule, has been properly reticent about flaunting our formidable arsenal, typically limiting such displays to celebrations of war victories. This is in keeping with a tradition that regularly honors those who sacrifice to defend our country, but resolutely limits the political role of the armed forces.

There is also an element of pragmatism in our shunning of martial ostentatiousness. Our military is, as Defense Secretary James Mattis has said, “the world’s most feared and trusted force.” There is no need to prove this with a pageant of might that is at least as likely to inspire resentment as respect — especially since it is now inevitable that even our friends abroad would see Trumpian excess in this break with our past, as Rick Noack noted in The Washington Post.

Mattis has done better than most Trump appointees in avoiding complicity with the president’s worst abuses. Perhaps Mattis has decided to preserve his influence by humoring Trump’s parade envy. Here’s hoping that instead, a Marine who knows what genuine battlefield heroism entails will find a way to sideline this very bad idea.

He might persuade Trump to contain his self-indulgence and spend the money a parade would cost on scholarships for the children of wounded warriors and those who have died in battle, or to help homeless vets. This is what real patriotism looks like.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, the last great general to serve as president, urged “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” to mesh the “huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Trump’s parade is the antithesis of Ike’s prudence and his commitment to safeguarding our democracy.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

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(15) comments

Climatehoax

I don’t like to kick people when they are wrong BUT have you ,homey, king, johnny etc etc read the latest NON catastrophic climate change study. What percent of scientists were on board with devastating results??? That would be 97% WRONG, WRONG WRONG. Now, 97% percent are falling down back peddling. Off topic , I know , but the liberal Trib probably won’t run the story since it’s against their agenda. The sane people who can think for them selves prevail AGAIN !!! You guys can take your 97 % of scientists and stick em where the sun don’t shine. Ha, ha👍👍😁😁😁

oldhomey

No, Climate, I haven't seen that NON catastrophic climate change study. It must be a doozy, so iron-clad in its rightness that you don't even bother to tell us who issued it and what their conclusions are based upon. This will change EVERYTHING. You seem to be ahead of the curve of even Buggs Raplin on this! Thanks for bringing it to the attention of the rest of us. On the other hand, I unfortunately have a short attention span for b.s., so it is likely you will have to bring this up again and again.

Climatehoax

Along with your short attention span you’re also gullible, andcant thnk for yourself, proven by the fact that you swallowed, hook, line, sinker boat AND the dock in your blind faith of the disastrous NATURAL climate change BS.

kingman10

even though this is way off topic, hoaxer is known for his short attention span. We are still waiting for that study you talk about. Or is this just a little joke to amuse yourself.

oldhomey

Gosh, not only myself, but everybody in the community who has been misled on this global warming business thank should probably you, climate, for setting us straight with your brilliant, fact-based explanation of the error of our thinking. I say "should", however, rather conditionally, because I haven't bee able to figure out what you are trying to say in your rather strangely garbled 8:00am post.

oldhomey

Boy! I am on a roll. Yesterday I get caught fair and square bollixing up my facts on the year Jimmy Carter was elected. Today I snark Climate for garbling his message with beaut of my own: "not only myself, but everybody in the community who has been misled on this global warming business thank should probably you, climate . . . "

This is what it was meant to say: "not only myself, but everybody in the community who has been misled on this global warming business should probably thank you, Climate, for setting us straight with your brilliant, fact-based explanation of the error of our thinking. I say "should", however, rather conditionally, because I haven't bee able to figure out what you are trying to say in your rather strangely garbled 8:00am post."

Serves me right for being a smarta$$, I guess.

Tim Russell

Apparently someone forgot the Memorial Day and the Veterans Day Parades that we have across the country ever year.

kingman10

This just in: The military refuses to march in Trump's parade citing painful bone spurs. More fallout continues as wanna be dictator #45 can't use the military in his fantasy charade.

Climatehoax

If a liberal came up with the idea to have a parade or showing it would be acceptable. We have gay pride parades, we have black million man march parades. I think a military parade would be awesome. If the liberals don’t want it and are willing to lay down in front of tanks, that’s the only reason I need to want it. Looney’s

kingman10

yea right hoaxer, if Obama came up with that crazy idea my the racist would of gone crazy with more name calling. You want a military to salute your dear leader, nazi style, you pay for it. Be sure to tear up the constitution while watching.

oldhomey

Right, Climate. Conservatives for decades now have been frustrated by liberals who have stopped every conservative effort to mount military parades. It is just criminal! I can't ever remember seeing people in the uniforms of our military services marching publicly. Not one time. How about you, Climate? I think there should be a constitutional change mandating that our military should march in a major parade in every state of the union at least once a year, showing off all their technical hardware. And ALL Americans, especially the lily-livered liberals, should be ordered to attend and stand at attention (at least the LIBERALS should be forced stand at attention). If anybody is caught kneeling, certain elements of the troops will be carrying live ammunition, and kneelers will be shot in the middle of the street to make examples of them (I know Snow will LOVE that proviso!). Another proviso should stipulate that any member of Congress who does not stand and cheer Donald Trump in future State of Union messages should be subject to arrest and being hanged until dead in Guantanamo. THAT would show these Loonies, right, Climate? If the liberals don't heed Trump's call for a gentler, more cooperative government in service to the Trump agenda (when he finally formulates one), they'll get it with both barrels and deserve it.

oldhomey

Sorry, gang, but I think the military parade is a wonderful idea. It will take my mind off the foolish expenditure of $30 billion or so on The Wall That Will Stop Nothing, the hundreds of billions of restarting a nuclear arms race and the spectacle of the Koch brothers dancing in the street over the extra billion or two they will be able to keep after the Trump "tax reform" while you and I will end up paying more in taxes while receiving less in service from the government. I will sit there, transfixed by the passing tanks, artillery, rocketry and all the flag lapel pins on the expensive suits of the defense contractors applauding this great show.

johnnybragatti

Prime example of your Nazi/Fascist in chief,
running off at the mouth of moral bankruptcy,
while attempting to feed his massive insecurities and thin-skinned-ness,
without a thread of potency.
Trump= a bonafied wimp......in disguise.

kingman10

“For someone who just declared it was ‘treasonous’ to not applaud him, and for someone who has, in the past, admired the tactics of everyone from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin, it is clear that a military parade isn’t about saluting the military — it’s about making a display of the military saluting him.” - Retired Major Gen. Paul Eaton.
A parade for #45 would be a disservice to our military.

awol2009

No military parades for Draft Dodger tRumplethinskin. Comrade Cadette5 Bonespur simply has a bad case of small dick syndrome.

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