We’re starting to see some push back against the almost universal condemnation of the idea of holding a military parade on July 4th. Since the current administration first floated the idea, it has mostly been derided by Democrats, Republicans, mainstream media, even the military itself. Even readers of Military Times are vehemently opposed to holding a military parade, with 89% of surveyed readers saying it’s a bad idea.
But the last day or so has seen quiet advocacy for holding a parade in Atlantic andUSA Today. The basic argument in favor of having tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks and missiles march before Donald Trump and other high-ranking U.S. officials, saluting while they passed, fighter jets flying in pattern overhead, is that the military parade is an old tradition that should be revived. Supposedly it will bring the military and civilian populations closer together and help civilians understand the important role the military plays in protecting our society from internal and external threats. That might—might—work for those civilians who watch the parade in person or on television, a group likely to be outnumbered by those who protest against the parade, either in Washington or at one of the dozens of satellite demonstrations that will assuredly take place across the country.
Most people recognize that the demonstrators in the anti-military parades will for the most part not be protesting either the military or any of the three (or more) wars we will be fighting as of this July 4th. No, the protesters will be raising their voices against militarism and Donald Trump, who Americans rightly sense has proposed organizing the parade for his own self-aggrandizement.
Apart from where you stand on the Donald, there are six very good reasons for the United States not to hold a large military parade at this time:
There’s no good reason to parade
Most of the military parades we have held over our history have been to commemorate victory in war. The last time was in 1991, when we commemorated winning the first Gulf War—you know, the one in which we stopped short of overthrowing Saddam Hussein because we didn’t know who would run the country without him. We have no victory to declare in any of the wars we are currently fighting.
It does not honor our soldiers
To the soldier, marching or driving a tank in a parade is another day’s work. Whereas veterans who march in Veterans’ Day parades do so by choice, it’s going to be a job to the doughgirls and doughboys in the Trump spectacle. The ones really being honored are those in the main reviewing stand, the ones all the soldiers salute when they march by.
Only autocratic countries hold military parades when there is no victory to celebrate
All the examples of military parades when there has been no victory in war that we see in the mass media involve autocratic countries—Red China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, Chile and Argentina under dictatorships. The exception is France, the democracy that gives the most power to its executive.
Holding a military parade projects weakness to the rest of the world
Years ago, the military parade communicated strength, but no more. Now it tells the world that a country is insecure about its ability to defend itself. Remember that France is the one western country to hold annual public parades of the active military and it hasn’t won a war in more than 200 years, unless you count those two wars of the last century that the United States and the Soviet Union won for France.
It will subject us to more ridicule by the world
The rest of the world has been laughing at us since the current administration took over, and they will snigger all the louder if the most powerful country in the world starts to imitate small-time dictators. Because the basic action of a military parade is a regiment saluting a leader, the world will see the parade as a glorification of our current president, who is generally considered an ill-mannered and ignorant buffoon by the rest of the world. A parade of soldiers in front of Trump will fulfill Marx’s paradigm that history unfolds twice, first as tragedy (the fascists) and then as comedy (Trumpty-Dumpty). That protests will undoubtedly draw more attendees than the parade itself may serve to raise the esteem in which the rest of the world holds America, but only at the expense of making our government and its current leader look all the more ridiculous.
It represents an unnecessary militarization of society
A military parade expresses that the military is important to our society, which is in fact what supporters of it are saying. I live in New York City, which has dozens of parades a year—Gay Pride, German Day, Puerto Rican Day, Israeli Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving. Each parade pays homage to a different value—our ethnic heritages, our diversity, the sacrifice soldiers have made in the past, the importance of community. A military parade puts the focus on fighting—our enormous current army, military technology, sophisticated equipment. It expressed militarism as a core value. I, and many other Americans including lots of soldiers and generals, believe that the military is a necessity, not a core value that defines America. A July 4th parade featuring high schools, 4H clubs, youth groups, ethnic societies, veterans associations and LGBTQ groups shows our Americanism. A march of soldiers and implements of warfare does not.
It costs a lot of money
People are throwing around the figure of $20 million, which is the cost of the 1991 parade in 2018 dollars. But isn’t Trump going to want something bigger, flashier, with more soldiers and more military toys than ever before? We must also figure in the hidden cost of preparing the soldiers for their roles in the parade and the logistics of getting everyone and everything to Washington. My own guess is that a parade that will please the Donald will have to cost at least $100 million, or roughly the salary of 1,200 school teachers.
And make no mistake about it. The only reason to throw this monstrosity of a parade is to please the Donald, to make him feel all powerful because he commands what he is sure to call the greatest fighting machine in the history of mankind. Not something of which we should really be proud, as I’m sure a lot of generals past and present would agree. Whatever you may think of the military of our current or past wars, very few Americans other than Donald Trump has ever valued militarism as a positive trait. Our myth is to be the reluctant warrior, the quiet sheriff who does his job only when he has to do it. Gary Cooper picking up the guns he hates because he knows there is no longer any other choice. A military parade, unless it comes to celebrate the end of a victorious war, does not fit that image.
A common theme among pundits is that Republicans know how to play politics, whereas the Democrats are bumblers. The affair of the dueling classified memos is definitely not playing out that way. In fact, the GOP has let itself get caught in a zugzwang, which in chess is a situation in which every move a player makes weakens his/her position. The player is better off not moving, but is of course forced to move. You can’t pass in chess, as you could in Scrabble or poker. “Zug” means “move” in German, “zwang” means “forced”: thus “zugzwang—a forced move. Being caught in a zugzwang is usually fatal.
What is happening is not just a zugzwang, but a double zugzwang. And the Republicans—perhaps at the bratty insistence of Trumpty Dumpty—could have avoided the entire mess.
In terms of chess theory here’s what happened. For about two weeks, Republicans have threatened to release a memo that would supposedly show that the Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign and administration is a witch hunt. But as the great chess theorist and player Aron Nimzovich pointed out about a century ago, a threat to do something is more powerful than actually doing it. In the case of the weak-ass Nunes memo, that was certainly the case. Nimzovich, by the way, was the author of the most famous zugzwang in chess history, a deft maneuver in the middle of a 1923 game against Friedrich Sämisch that left his hapless victim with many moves—all of them very quickly leading to his demise.
Then it was the Democrat’s move, and what they did could be expected: They developed their own confidential memo.
Now came an enormous blunder by the Republicans. They released the Nunes memo. Their memo was all smoke-and-mirrors and they knew it. As long as it remained unreleased it tantalized with what it could say and it also flustered both the Democrats and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), precisely because it was nonsense. But once released, everyone outside the Trumposphere—or should I say Foxosphere since creating an alternative reality is not new to the current administration—quickly saw it was questionable.
The threat was much more powerful than the execution could ever have been since the memo was so flimsy of fact and so riddled with logical flaws. It reminds me of a story about Nimzovich, who would only play if his opponent was not allowed to smoke. In the middle of a game, the opponent pulled out a big fat cigar and put it down on the table, then started fingering it. Nimzovich called the judge over to complain. Both judge and opponent reminded Nimzovich that no one had lit up, to which the great theorist replied, “Yes, but you must know that the threat is stronger than the execution.” That certainly was the case with the Nunes memo.
In short, the Republicans put themselves into a double zugzwang. The first zugzwang involved the Republican Congressional representatives in the House Intelligence Committee: Okay the release of the Dem’s memo and be shown to be cheap propagandists OR disapprove and be condemned as being unfair and anti-democratic. They wisely chose the first route, which put the current administration into the second zugzwang: object to the release or not. Object and you seem undemocratic. Let it be released and be made stupid everywhere but inside the minds of the true believers.
What Trump decides to do is anyone’s guess. On the one hand, he doesn’t mind—and would actually enjoy—being autocratic and suppressing the Dem’s memo. But on the other hand, the information will surely leak out anyhow, plus Trump can always use the new document as another prop, condemning the Dems for their fabrication and suggesting that the rot in the FBI runs far deeper than we ever imagined. Trumpistas and FOX News will lap up this latest accusation of conspiracy, even as the mainstream media both condemns it and gives it credence by covering it. He will in short disgrace himself either way, but he won’t even know it. Unfortunately, nor will the 25-37% of the population still chugging the Trumpian KoolAid, perhaps because it comes in so many flavors of white.
The good news is that for a change, the American people are benefiting from a cheap political stunt. The controversy over the Nunes memo has brought to light the many hoops through which our security apparatus must jump to get a secret warrant against an American citizen or foreign spies in the Foreign Intelligence Service (FISA) court. The applications run 60-70 pages and must receive sign-offs at many levels in several government departments. The FBI or National Security Agency must reapply on a regular basis to keep the wire taps and surveillance going. Frankly, I’m against indiscriminant surveillance, which like stop-and-frisk can lead to abuses that typically have a racial bias. It relieved me and lot of other liberals to learn that getting a FISA warrant is no walk on the beach, but a convoluted process with a high standard of proof.
The second good news—only potential at this point—is that Congressional Republicans may have finally evolved a backbone, as the intelligence committee voted unanimously to release the memo and throw the hot zugzwang potato to the Donald and a number of Congressional leaders, including Trey Gowdy—Hillary Clinton’s own Inspector Javert—said that the Nunes memo has nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, which must be allowed to continue.
Could the Congressional GOP have finally drawn a line in the sand? Are they ready to take independent action, sometimes in concert with the Democrats, to run the government in the face of executive dysfunction? One sign of such a hopeful development would be if Congress passed the clean DAC bill proposed by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons. Dare Trump to veto it. Another sign of GOP independence from the cesspool that is Donald Trump would be a joint resolution demanding the current administration implement the sanctions against Russia for messing with our 2016 election.
The jury is out on a Congressional Republican vertebrae, but the Republican error of releasing an obviously bogus memo does give us cause for a small-beer celebration. Perhaps our system does work. Sometimes. A little.
The Nunes memo is nothing more or less than a technique of McCarthyism. We’ve seen politicians wave around pieces of paper containing lies before in American history. Even when successful, the results of the gambit are usually short-lived, although, like the McCarthyism of the early 1950s, can nonetheless hurt a lot of people. In the case of the Nunes memo, it will thankfully likely recoil in short order on the person the memo is meant to protect—Donald Trump.
Like McCarthy’s famous list of communists, the delusion of the Nunes memo starts with a threat to produce a piece of paper that blows the whistle on a whole lot of bad stuff. Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy had in his hand “a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.” That’s the exact quote from the first time McCarthy used the dramatic smear against the State Department that has come to symbolize “McCarthyism.” Nunes’ proposed cancer lurks in the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in particular.
McCarthy’s supposed traitors were trying to bring America to its knees through the spread of communism, while the contemporary traitors are trying to take down a presidency.
Both pieces of paper were part of broader strategies to achieve political ends. McCarthy wanted to be re-elected and the other prosecutors of the Red Scare wanted to turn the country against socialist solutions to national challenges, such as universal healthcare, civil rights legislation or investment in mass transit. Nunes wants to end an investigation that is looking more and more as if it will find that Donald Trump and his close associates colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 presidential election and then sought to conceal their nefarious and probably traitorous deeds.
McCarthy never read from his list and as far as we know, it had no names on it. But he did have an old FBI report from which he later misquoted, exaggerated and distorted to substantiate his initial accusations. The Nunes memo presents a few facts, his lies consisting of the preponderance of evidence he leaves out and the false conclusions he draws.
What differentiates these two mendacious pieces of paper is that McCarthy’s list reflected perfectly the tenor of the times and was thus widely believed and supported. The entire spectrum of the American ruling elite from the most conservative to the most liberal and the mass media that reflected their interests were shaking in their boots about the possibility of a socialist revolution coming to the United States. But the contemporary ruling elite is divided as to the efficacy of continuing the rule of Donald Trump, including many who approve of and benefit from the policies of the current administration but put the rule of American law above their own selfish self-interest. The mainstream media believed the McCarthy hogwash, but only the cynical and the true believers swallow the Nunes Kool-Aid.
It is unlikely that the Nunes memo will accomplish the long-term objective of ending the Mueller investigation, but it has accomplished one immediate goal: Keeping the mind of the public off the fact that the current administration is defying the law by not enforcing the sanctions against Russia for interfering with the 2016 election that Congress approved by overwhelming margins of 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House. If there is one thing the current administration is good at it is governing by sleight of hand. The standard trick is for Trump to say or do something obnoxious that the news media focuses on, while the administration or Congress does something truly horrifying that gets less publicity. For example, Trump’s latest Twitter argument with a prominent minority floods the news, cannibalizing potential coverage of a new plan to dismantle environmental regulations. This time, Nunes is carrying the water.
Consider these numbers. A search of Google News produces 74,200 hits after imputing “Nunes memo” over the past week and a mere 8,380 hits for “Russian sanctions.” All the mainstream television news shows and National Public Radio have opened with the Nunes memo and have given far more time to it than they have to the administration’s refusal to enforce the sanctions. The rightwing media such as Fox News is shrieking stridently that the Nunes memo shows that the Mueller investigation must end while completely ignoring Trump’s failure to implement the sanctions.
American history is full of politicians accusing various branches of government of nefarious behavior that didn’t exist. The post office has long been a bête noir of Republican privatizers. The GOP constantly accused the Obama administration of overreach. Trump and other Republicans accused the national security apparatus of failing in its handling of immigrants during the election. Then there was McCarthy. So the Nunes accusations represent nothing new or even rare in American politics.
But I can’t recall another example of a president so completely ignoring the will of Congress since Andrew Johnson instigated his own impeachment by firing the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton after Congress had passed a special law to prevent him from doing so. What did Stanton do to make Johnson defy Congress? He was aggressively implementing the program called Reconstruction meant to bring civil rights to all citizens of the states that had recently tried to secede from the union. Johnson, a former slave owner, was against sending troops to the south to protect the rights and lives of the recently freed or their southern supporters.
Trump’s position is equally obnoxious and anti-American, and perhaps treasonous. He doesn’t want Russia to suffer for interfering in our elections, certainly because it helped to elect him, and seems to welcome its help in 2018. That more Republicans seem interested in ending the Mueller investigation than forcing Trump to obey a law that achieved rare bipartisan support demonstrates that the GOP has become a stinking, putrefying corpse of corruption. Rotten to the core, with the foul stench starting from the head, as it always does.