Thursday, February 8, 2018

Insecurity on Display: Trump's Pompous Parade and Nixon's Palace Guards

by Nomad

Back in January 1970, then-president Richard Nixon took a good look at the White House guard (secret service uniformed division) and made a decision. The attire was not suitably fancy.
It would not do.
And so, he ordered an overhaul of the uniforms to match what he had seen in palaces worn in other countries.

From now on, the president ordered, the guards would be decked out in uniforms which featured a white, double-breasted tunic with gold shoulder trim and a stiff shako hat with peaked front.  

As soon as the news leaked out, his critics wasted no time. What in God's name was he thinking?
The Vietnam War was becoming more and more of a national nightmare, with large anti-war protests growing more violent. There were many other problems besides the war and social unrest. The jobless numbers in that year exceeded 10% and the economy, pummeled by tremendous oil price shocks, was in a mess.So, Nixon's critics asked, was this really time to be discussing uniforms? 

Richard Reeves, in his book, President Nixon Alone in the White House, recalls the moment.
A couple of days after the State of the Union address, Democrats and the press finally got a chance to mock Nixon. The occasion was a state visit by Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Great Britain — and the official unveiling of new White House police uniforms, inspired by the honor guards Nixon had seen in Europe. The cops were wearing double-breasted white tunics with starred epaulets, gold piping, draped braid, and high black plastic hats decorated with a large White House crest.

“They look like old-time movie ushers,” said the Buffalo News. “The Student Prince” said the Chicago Daily News. In the Chicago Tribune, a Nixon friend, columnist Walter Trohan, was more serious, saying the uniforms belonged onstage, calling them “frank borrowing from decadent European monarchies, which is abhorrent to this country’s democratic tradition.”
Others observed that the makeover sent all the wrong messages. It made the Nixon administration look less like a European monarchy and more like a Third World military junta.
Public opinion gave it a big thumbs down. The guards themselves complained that they felt too theatrical and that the hats were uncomfortable.

Accordingly, Nixon had second thoughts about the style change. The uniforms were eventually put in storage until 1980 and were last seen being sold to the Meriden-Cleghorn High School Marching Band in Iowa.
A fittingly farcical ending to the story.

A Cheesy Sign of Weakness

This week, President Trump sent a presidential directive to the top generals in the Pentagon. They were to stage a full-scale military parade "like the one in France."

One a military official who wished to remain anonymous said that the parade plans was "being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

As the Washington Post noted:
The White House described the proposed parade as a joyous occasion to celebrate the nation's military. But the potential costs and logistical stresses of such an exercise have already raised hackles (Mattis himself warned a congressional committee Tuesday that the military is short of money for necessities such as training and maintenance).
Not everybody was "joyous" about the plan. Republicans in Congress immediately threw ice water on the idea. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared the military parade was “kind of cheesy and a sign of weakness.”
Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), added
“America is the most powerful country in all of human history, everybody knows it, and we don't need to show it off.”
A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., told CNN:
"I don't believe we should have tanks or nuclear weapons going down Pennsylvania Avenue....We need to fund the entire military for the rest of the year. The continuing resolutions are absolutely not the way to go, especially as it relates to funding the Department of Defense."
A practical point of view.
How much such a parade would cost is anybody's guess. Rough estimates of shipping Abrams tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington could run in the millions. Military officials said it was unclear how they would pay for it.

With his own party dead-set against it, it is unlikely Congress will ever allocate the funding.

Uniforms and Parades

The character of the presidency is shaped- for good and for bad- by the man who holds the office. In the case of both Nixon and Trump, the insecurities of the person affect his priorities. 

In the two examples, we see a pair of flawed presidents preoccupied with the superficial and flashy, seemingly unable to grasp the wrong messages they are sending. In Nixon's case, at a time when Communists all around the world were calling the US an "imperialist" nation, how could Nixon ever have decided to imitate the old World monarchies of the past?  It seemed so obvious to everybody except the president.

In the same vein, when international polls reveal that the US is viewed by peoples around the world to be the biggest threat to world peace, is it really a good time to hold a military parade, on par with the likes of the late Saddam Hussein, the late Muammar Gaddafi and the soon-to-be-late Bashar al-Assad?   

No matter how many parades Trump arranges in his honor, it will not change the fact that the majority of military officers have an unfavorable view of their commander-in-chief. According to a survey, 53 percent of military officers oppose Trump, while only 30 percent hold a positive view of the president. 

The anxiety of US citizens that Trump is showing autocratic tendencies will certainly not be palliated by a demonstration of military might in the streets of the nation's capital. For many, it will be a wake-up call that Trump fascism wasn't as far-fetched after all.

Real World, Real Wars

Back in the real world with real wars, this week, there was bipartisan concern in Congress that Trump's strategy in Afghanistan was not going to bring a satisfactory end to our longest war. On top of failure, Trump's war plans are expensive and will cost taxpayers more than $45 billion this year alone.
Given this news- with really no escape, one can appreciate Trump's attempt to distract the public.

So why a parade? Apparently, the impetus for this cockamamie idea came from Trump's visit to France last year where French President Emmanuel Macron impressed the US president with 
"uniformed French troops marching down Avenue des Champs-Elysees with military tanks, armored vehicles, gun trucks and carriers — complete with fighter jets flying over the Arc de Triomphe and painting the sky with streaks of blue, white and red smoke for the colors of the French flag."
Clearly overwhelmed, Trump told reporters
“It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen. It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France.. We’re going to have to try to top it.”
However, there's one silver lining I can think of.
At least, when Trump visited Saudi Arabia, the berobed kings and bearded princes did not attempt to overawe Trump with a public beheading in Chop Chop Square in Riyadh.