On his way to the White House, Donald Trump's at risk of stumbling into an awkward stereotype, one that's less Cincinnatus than Caesar.
Stepping into his role as "a great cheerleader for the country," the new commander in chief told the Washington Post that he'll order the armed services to get out more. He wants military parades and that could mean F-16s over Brooklyn and maybe Marines "marching down Pennsylvania Avenue." Trump should reconsider.
Of course, any pomp and splendor fuels ill-founded liberal accusations that Trump's a fascist. More important than the poor optics though, military parades set a bad precedent by blurring the separation between martial and civilian spheres.
Trump has identified one of America most interesting military paradoxes. For being the greatest fighting force in the history of mankind, U.S. legions are crowd-shy. Our troops are bit different than the legionnaires who march down the Marseilles or strut through Red Square. Because our forces are the best, they don't front. And it's by design.
First in war and first in peace, our democracy keeps the two domains separate. The military's Oath of Enlistment makes clear that the military bows to civilian authority and for most of American history it's bowed out of the public eye. Parades with rolling tanks, towed missiles, and marching troops, clearly run against that democratic ethos.
Peace is the goal and gratuitous displays of power highlight the opposite. A Civil War veteran writing to the New York Times in 1866 provides a useful rubric for scheduling parades.
"I have no admiration for the military profession … and nothing but contempt for what are justly thought the mere pomp and glitter of military parade," he writes, "But alas! ...When wars must come, and military pomp will attend them."
Put another way, When there's a war, parades are in order. When peace is raging, leave the military to its training and out of American streets.
That's been the unofficial rules so far, following successful campaigns like the Civil War, first World War and Korean War. Most recently after the first Gulf War, as the Washingtonian notes, General Norman Schwarzkopf led parades in New York and D.C. complete with shock troops, fighting vehicles and tanks.
In each case though, the demonstration of might had a purpose. They weren't simply flexing to showcase strength. They were commemorating a struggle against aggression. And because our troops fight to liberate and defend, they shouldn't emulate the gaudy displays of force that characterize regimes in China and Russia.
While Trump's patriotism is admirable, it's perhaps gone a bit astray. If he wants to live up to his platform of American restoration, he should prime the engine of our economy through a policy of deregulation and limiting government. But he should not order our armies to march through our cities.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.