The View From Here | Of Parades and the Common Good


Boy, that was some party!

With a sick daughter, I had to watch the festivities from home — earning me, as my wife said, “father-of-the-year honors” — but the combination of continued post-Super Bowl euphoria, the unbelievable scenes on the TV and the roar of the fighter jets over my house on their way to the Parkway made me feel like I was there.

The day after, the pictures were just as mesmerizing: Seas of green filling every available space between City Hall and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, parade-goers entranced by a Mummer-fied Jason Kelce and a speech that, while not exactly family-friendly, seemed to capture the city’s indomitable spirit and the visceral connection all Eagles fans have with their team. There is no doubting the power of a parade to spark the emotions and unify a citizenry.

Would a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. — as President Donald Trump seemingly wants the Pentagon to greenlight — have a similar unifying effect for the nation as a whole?

That’s not an easy question to answer. For starters, that might not even be the goal of a Trump-commissioned procession of military might. He reportedly told advisers that a parade would show America’s appreciation for the military, a worthwhile endeavor in and of itself. But would such a parade — or anything done by this administration — actually unify “the people”?

Trump is rumored to have been so awestruck by the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last summer — with long convoys of uniformed troops and military equipment, and was overflown by jets streaming smoke matching the republic’s tri-color flag — that he just had to preside over one here.

When news of his command surfaced last week, many were reflexively aghast at what they felt would be a production more akin to a North Korean dictatorship than an accurate portrayal of American democratic values.

With this president as the country’s chief showman and considering his campaign’s history of bringing out the worst in some people — in the months leading up to the election, it was not uncommon for supporters, egged on by then-candidate Trump, to resort to threats and actual violence against perceived intruders, whether members of the media, hecklers or those deemed not sufficiently supportive — the worries of Trump’s critics are reasonable.

But just as reasonable is the cogent defense of a military parade authored by a 35-year veteran in The Atlantic. Far from being un-American, military parades used to be a regular thing, he wrote. It’s just that there hasn’t been a national one since 1991. Since then, public identification with those sworn to protect the country and its ideals with their very lives has decreased to alarming levels.

So perhaps of instead of thinking what a military parade should be, we should be in agreement of what it should not be: an expensive demonstration of military might meant either to prop up a president with flagging poll numbers or to strike fear in enemies abroad. The first would most definitely be the hallmark of a dictatorship; the second would be foolish, considering that the American military — as Trump himself likes to boast — is a powerful force not devoid of recent examples of its propensity and skill to use it.

When President Barack Obama chose to hold an event to say goodbye to the troops as their departing commander-in-chief, he was ridiculed by many Republicans for seeming to use the military for political gain. The same worry is no less applicable to Trump and might even be more apt, given his tendency to occupy the center of attention.

Would a military parade in the heart of the nation’s capital be about the troops or would it be about Trump?

If the latter, then we’re better off without it. Even the Eagles parade, while occasioned by their stunning defeat of a top-ranked team and its “immortal” quarterback, was as much about the city and the fans as it was about the team.

A healthy dose of patriotism and a reinvigoration of civic commitment is certainly needed in today’s polarizing climate, but without a better articulation of the vision behind this president’s wish, a military parade is just as likely to be a boondoggle as it is to be a unifying force. 

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]


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