Donald Trump has come under fire from members of his Republican party as well as the opposition Democratic Party over a proposal to have a large scale national military parade on July the 4th, the date that the United States declared itself an independent country.
The idea stems from Trump’s visit to France last year where President Macron hosted his US counterpart during the country’s Bastille Day parade. However, Republican Congressman Jim McGovern has said that the idea makes Trump a “dictator”, in spite of the fact that hardly anyone in the US would consider their French ally a “dictatorship”. Meanwhile, a deluge of Trump opponents on Twitter have condemned the idea.
The entire situation is bemusing, not least because the US media is churning out negative pieces about the DPRK for alleged plans to hold its own military parade in the coming days. On the face of it, the analysis one might reach is that for the US, North Korean parades are universally bad, French parades are universally good and domestic parades can be good if proposed by the domestic centrist George H. W. Bush, but not the maverick Donald Trump – after all H. W. Bush held multiple parades in 1991 after the US “victory” in the Gulf War/First War On Iraq.
But there is something more grotesque behind this seemingly inane debate about a parade. If diverse sets of countries throughout the world have such parades, clearly there is no binding ideological component behind ‘paradism’, unless there are similarities between the Juche idea which defines North Korea and the French Fifth Republic, which clearly there are not.
The truth goes back to the founding of the US as a federation of highly autonomous states, rather than a unitary nation. As the country expanded, even more states were added, each with their own unique character. After after the Union’s victory in the American Civil War seemingly settled the issue, the pitched battles between states’ rights and federal privilege became a sticking point once again during the great depression due to Frankly D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The issue again became prominent in the 1950s and 1960s while the country debated civil rights legislation. The issue crept up again in the 80s and 90s in respect of federal tax and budgetary issues and in many ways, even when out of the front page headlines, the issue never went away and likely never will, as today a small but vocal California independence movement has entered the fray.
How then can the US claim to be a nation where immigrants (and slaves) from around the world assimilated into a common American identity? The answer lies not in the US flag, military or constitution, but in the all mighty American brand.
While some might be embarrassed to admit this, the things which unify Americans most are not history, love of natural landscapes, the military or America’s laws – it is the television and films Americans watch, the food they eat, beverages they drink, cars they drive, celebrities they idolise and clothes they wear.
Consider the most prominent parade in the US today. It is called the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And who are the stars of the parade? They are a combination of real life celebrities who themselves are living brands combined with large balloons and cut-outs of favourite characters from US television and film.
The irony is, for a nation with the largest military budget in history, the most over seas bases, the most over seas wars and the most far reaching aggressive foreign policy, more Americans can recognise Homer Simpson, Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald than they can Ulysses S. Grant, John J. Pershing or George S. Patton.
While few Americans question the military-industrial complex, its human costs or its financial costs, many become self-conscious at the idea of a military parade, even though many countries across all continents have just the kinds of military parades Donald Trump would like to put on in Washington D.C.
This is not a symptom of America being anti-war but a symptom of America being numb to war. In a country without an official religion, without an official secular ideology (like USSR, Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Nasserist Egypt, China, DPRK, Vietnam etc), without a guiding ethno-civic identity (Turkey, France), without a nationalist, multi-ethnic post colonial identity (Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, pre-Hindutva India, Myanmar, Singapore, Philippines Malaysia, Indonesia), without a monarchy (Jordan, the GCC states, Scandinavia, Thailand, Britain) and without a cultural/historic non-ethno centric and partly religious nationalism (modern Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece) and notably, as a country with a private military-industrial complex but not a public cult of the military, the US is only left with brands.
When people outside of the US think of the country, those with negative views will cite America’s war machine and those with positive views with cite Hollywood, Super Blows, cheerleaders, Disneyland, fast food, name brand jeans and Coca Cola.
It is therefore ironic that a current US President who built much of his career on turning his name and image into a brand, is trying to get the US to fall in love with military parades, rather than that which America is already in love with…people like Donald Trump, the fast food he eats and the celebrities he used to appear with on television.