Vindication is not always a happy feeling, not when the nation is at such grave risk.
In years past, I’ve often devoted my Fourth of July column to observing that the right has no monopoly on patriotism. The Tories of the Revolutionary era, who demanded loyalty to the British throne, were the right-wing reactionaries of their time, as were the Confederates who sought to destroy the Union in defense of chattel slavery, and as were the America Firsters who advanced the interests of Nazi Germany against the security of the United States. I wrote those columns in memory of my father: a son of immigrants, a military veteran of World War II, a small business owner, and a passionate liberal.
Those same arguments are now embodied in the person and conduct of the President of the United States, an ostensibly conservative politician whose nearly every act violates the Constitution and betrays the national interest. Donald Trump, who is sometimes seen publicly pressing his corpulent figure up against Old Glory, is what my dad used to mock as a “jelly bellied flag flapper.” It’s a phrase from an old Kipling story about another character with an appalling impulse to aggrandize himself by abusing the flag. And now, on the national holiday, he is about to go still further to showcase his “patriotic” fervor.
Like Trump’s disrespectful assault on the flag, however, his plan to impose himself on the Fourth of July evokes nothing except an intense feeling of disgust.
Unlike any other president in history, Trump is determined to pervert the celebration of the nation’s independence into a promotion of his own unappealing persona. Against the better judgment of our general staff, he aims to fulfill his authoritarian fantasies with a lengthy military parade that includes tanks, mimicking the style of a tinpot dictator. He has ordered dozens of flyovers to accompany an idiotic address that he will deliver in front of the Lincoln Memorial, in which he will no doubt declare once more that he is the most accomplished president in history. He is handing out tickets for this taxpayer-sponsored extravaganza to his high-rolling donors. No expense will be spared to make this draft-dodger, who dares to mock the service of real heroes, feel like a strongman.
Retired Major General Paul Eaton, who has devoted his life to military service, expresses succinctly the anger of so many like him:
“By roping our military into what has become a highly partisan July Fourth event that celebrates Donald Trump, our military is being cheapened. They’re being made to act like window dressing for a tinpot dictator wannabe. Many in the media may be fooled by the pomp and circumstance, and say the staging makes Trump look bigger. But…I can tell you it makes him look small and weak. And it makes it look like he has no respect for the proud tradition of our great military.”
While that contemptible tableau unfolds before the world, it is vital to remember how Trump’s behavior belies the red-white-and-blue fireworks and all the other showbiz “patriotism” on display. His specific offenses against constitutional order and national security are far too numerous to list here. He has repeatedly denigrated the military, intelligence and law enforcement officials who devote their lives to their country’s service. He has bowed and scraped and debased himself before the world’s worst leaders, whose bloody repression he evidently admires. He has refused to defend the country’s election system against foreign adversaries. He has undermined the alliances that have kept the nation secure for more than seven decades. Indeed, he has routinely encouraged the heirs of Nazism and fascism while insulting democratic forces everywhere.
But rest assured, he is truly a “conservative,” in the current and deeply distorted sense denoted by that term in American politics. He can suck up to the Russian autocrat and the North Korean despot all day every day, while conservative organizations and media outlets will only praise him. He can ignore the Constitution, a document that means nothing to him, and use his office to enrich himself, and the conservatives will make excuses. He can savage the free press, as he did with his buddy Vladimir Putin, whose regime murders journalists, and the conservatives will insist he was joking.
No, the right enjoys no monopoly on patriotism — and on this Fourth of July, their grotesque fealty to Trumpism will prove the point again, as noisily as a tank rumbling on a city street.