With the upcoming White House-sponsored ceremony honoring the U.S. military on the National Mall, this Independence Day will look a little different in Washington, D.C.
A quick scan of headlines, opinion columns, and social media shows this is apparently quite upsetting to many in the political class. But to borrow the oft-used social media exclamation, “I’m sorry, I thought this was America.”
The reaction to the president’s Fourth of July plans has been a textbook case illustrating the disconnect between the “elites” and the majority of Americans.
In addition to the usual festivities on the National Mall, the White House is hosting “Salute to America,” an event specially focused on honoring the military, which will feature flyovers by the F-22 Raptor, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, and the Navy’s Blue Angels; various armored vehicles stationed around the area for tourists to see up-close; and remarks from the president himself.
The political commentariat seems to think so. “The president is fulfilling, sort of scratching, a long-term itch to have a military parade on the taxpayer dime,” opined John Avlon on CNN Wednesday morning.
The Washington Post’s James Hohmann claims, “This is not the first federal holiday Trump has politicized,” while drawing a not-so-subtle comparison between the event and the antics of adversarial dictators:
Trump seems to sincerely believe that tanks, jets and brute force are what make a country great. … The hard truth is that even the most odious regimes in the world are perfectly capable of rolling tanks into their capitals.
The bad takes don’t stop there, however. Responding to a photo of several armored vehicles being trucked into D.C. for the event, former CIA analyst Nada Bakos tweeted late Wednesday, “In a democracy, a military show of force is an indicator things aren’t going well.”
Not to be outdone, Sarah McLaughlin of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education tweeted, “Nothing signifies celebration of a holiday about breaking free from an oppressive government better than ‘tanks in the streets.’”
These examples of partisan sniping raise the simple question: What exactly is wrong with such a celebration?
Tuesday’s USA Today headline sums it up perfectly: “Trump’s 4th of July military show has visitors pumped, but critics slam it as an ego trip.”
It might be easy for those in “the swamp” to take for granted what the military does every day, and how they do it. As a veteran, the same is sometimes true for me.
We make a grave mistake, however, when we assume that Americans as a whole—indeed, those who make up the “true” America outside the Beltway—aren’t interested. We are wrong to assume they don’t appreciate every chance to show their gratitude for what the military does on a daily basis.
Part of the rich American tradition is celebrating those who not only secured our freedom more than two centuries ago, but who have stood up every day and every night since to maintain it.
It is wholly appropriate to emphasize the military’s vital role in our ongoing independence, and to give Americans the opportunity to see for themselves what our service members are doing with their tax dollars.
Indeed, while Washington Post’s Hohmann is correct that military might alone does not a great nation make, a strong and vibrant military—under the leadership of a commander in chief elected by the people—is the first line of defense against all threats to our nation and our Constitution, and a deterrent to an array of evils abroad.
That’s why the meltdown over “Salute to America” is so dissonant. Not only has our nation’s capital hosted numerous such celebrations of our military before—as CBS’ Maj. Mike Lyons points out—but getting so stridently upset just because Trump is doing so lacks a certain sense of perspective:
If you are losing your mind and your 4th of July is ‘ruined’ because two tanks, a Bradley, a recovery vehicle and maybe a few HUMVEEs are going to be on the National Mall tomorrow, just stay in bed under the covers until it’s over.
“But Trump is politicizing the military,” some argue.
This makes little sense. Is the president truly supposed to remain silent on the day most central to our national identity? Is it wrong for his administration to take the initiative in emphasizing the military’s importance to that identity?
If this was truly just a political stunt, one would expect a far more robust list of assets on display, or even a true military parade, like those in France every Bastille Day.
“Salute to America” is about one thing: reminding our nation of those who stand vigilant in defense of our liberty. It’s about honoring those who have given, and continue to give, so much for our nation. And it’s about remembering why we can celebrate this day year after year.
Instead of making it political, let’s focus on those things.
John Cooper is the senior communications manager for the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He served as an active duty officer in the U.S. Air Force from 2010-2014. Twitter: @thejcoop.
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