President Donald Trump’s dream of hosting a military parade in Washington was met with almost universal derision Wednesday, with critics seeing evidence of creeping authoritarianism.
White House and military officials confirmed that planning for the event was already underway, but a date had not yet been decided.
Support for the idea appeared to be thin on the ground, even from Trump’s erstwhile supporters.
Meanwhile Democratic lawmakers described it as an “idiot” and “authoritarian” idea from a “Napoleon in the making.”
Top Trump ally Republican Congressman Jim Jordan suggested further deliberation was needed.
“We’ll have that debate,” he said. “Our focus is making sure our military gets what it needs to defend this great country.”
“Whether we need a parade or not, I’ll leave that up the commander-in-chief.”
In a sign of possible tensions between Trump and his own staff, White House officials stressed the parade was still a “discussion.”
As commander-in-chief, Trump could order the military to carry out the parade without any further debate.
The last major military parade in Washington took place in 1991 after the Gulf War, with missiles and tanks rolling through the streets of the capital.
Americans enthusiastically attended, but Bush was pilloried by Democrats for the move.
Trump’s parade would be a showcase of American muscle, but would also undoubtedly focus on his own role as commander-in-chief.
Since taking office, Trump has frequently touted his support for the US military and placed high ranking generals in top White House and cabinet posts.
Even before being president he had mulled the possibility of a parade for his inauguration in January 2017, but the plan was scrapped.
The idea appears to have been rekindled when Trump visited Paris last July for Bastille Day, when the 45th president made no secret of his awe for the pomp and ceremony of the occasion.
Sitting on the Champs-Elysees, Trump marveled at the Republican Guard on horseback, jets flying overhead, and warmly greeted President Emmanuel Macron, who arrived in an open-topped camouflaged military jeep.
Months after that meeting, Trump publicly remarked: “So we’re actually thinking about Fourth of July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength.”
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump’s intention was rather to have “a celebration” of the military.
Still, Trump’s request immediately fueled comparisons to similar events in more autocratic countries.
Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison described it as “the Exalted Leader’s latest idiot (and authoritarian) idea.”
“We have a Napoleon in the making here,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
– ‘Cadet Bone Spurs’ –
Trump has already prompted fears about his respect for democratic freedoms once this week by suggesting Democrats were “un-American” and “treasonous” for not applauding his State of the Union address.
The White House claimed Trump was joking.
“The president was clearly joking with his comments, but what isn’t a joke is that Democrats refuse to celebrate the accomplishments of last year that have helped all Americans,” Sanders said.
But the quip did not go down well with lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats.
“I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek,” said Republican Senator Jeff Flake.
“But treason is not a punchline, Mr President.”
Military veteran and Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth also fired back at Trump, while lampooning his medical deferments from service during the Vietnam War.
“We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy,” she said.
“I swore an oath — in the military and in the Senate — to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.”