This year, President Trump will watch over a display of roaring military vehicles during his July 4 parade in Washington. This martial display of tanks and jets has been on Trump’s agenda since he took office despite (or perhaps because) of the lack of historical precedent for Independence Day military demonstrations. Though veterans are honored in small towns across the country and in Washington, armaments historically haven’t been. Marches of that nature are far more common in countries run by dictators — some of whom Trump has voiced admiration for — looking to demonstrate their doubtable military strength. America’s military strength is understood, which means that Trump’s parade isn’t about geopolitics or flags or the pledge of allegiance. It’s about conflating pride in America with pride in America’s ability to make war.
It is not so much unpatriotic as it is proof positive that POTUS doesn’t understand patriotism.
I’ve been teaching my boys about patriotism for about as long as they’ve been aware that they are Americans. Sometime in preschool when they were given flags to wave and told to sing God Bless America. And I’ve encouraged them to love their country, which means loving the people they share it with. I’ve tried to drive home the idea that people make a country because I want my children to see is that real patriotism is a devotion to the welfare of others. History tells us that it’s hard to keep an eye on that truth; that fealty to an elected leader or to a rewritten history often serves as an organizing principle for faux patriots.
My boys are still pretty young, but they more or less understand that the government is accountable to them (and recognized when the government tries to use tanks to demonstrate that its not). They understand that the animating ethos of the Declaration of Independence — that we all deserve freedom, life, liberty, safety, and happiness — is non-negotiable. I think they might even get “sacred honor” (they like superhero movies and there’s a familiar warlike sentimentality there).
These are complicated ideas. But not that complicated. Little kids can get there.
Trump has not. He’s spending taxpayer’s money for a celebration that appeals to his vanity and brandishing America’s saber in service of no moral end. In essence, Trump, who dodged military service with the help of a friendly doctor, is playing soldier. And he’s doing it at extreme cost to American taxpayers. And, let’s be honest, it’s going to look pretty cool — especially to young boys.
So my boys won’t be watching.
I tried to limit their exposure to Trump generally because they don’t need to hear racism, sexism, and anger. And they don’t need to see American capitulation — a president complimenting Kim Jung Un, an unelected leader who presides over death camps and was recently responsible for the death of an American, one Otto Warmbier. But they definitely, extremely, and absolutely don’t need to see their nation being smug on a global stage. They should aspire to be worthy of America as an inheritance, not think of their country in terms of its bristling weaponry or ability to operate with impunity.
In a sense, July 4 is a holiday about accountability. King George was unaccountable so our country’s founders decided that they would create a nation where everyone would be accountable to each other. Their plans for the country were deeply flawed (it must be restated forever that slavery is a moral stain that won’t come out), but their concept was sound. We are for us.
In that spirit, my boys with be spending July 4 hanging out with their neighbors. They won’t see any tanks. They’ll just see Americans. And, in doing so, they’ll learn to love their country.