Bob Rees and Clifton Jolley: Trucks, tanks, troops and Trump

President Donald Trump applauds during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

How you feel about President Trump’s “Salute to the Nation” probably has more to do with how you feel about Trump than hearing a fair criticism of the extravaganza itself.

Fox News was typically ecstatic. CNN typically sarcastic. And the best that many of us could say is that our worst fears were not fulfilled: We waited in anticipation for him to launch into re-election campaign mode, and were both surprised and modestly disappointed that he did not.

Ever since the tanks rolled past Trump’s envious gaze in Paris, our Showman President has dreamed of having a parade, with flags, fly-over jets and a fascist-like show of military power, including tanks — in this case topped off by a grand speech in front of the Lincoln Monument. Unfortunately, reality intruded and Trump’s patriotic-political Independence Day party had to be scaled back dramatically, a shadow of both the North Koreans’ and the Russians’ more impressive parades. It turned out to be a shadow of even Macron’s French Bastille Day show. C’est la vie!

Criticize however we may, a few tanks — even if stationary, sitting on plywood and hidden from most viewers behind fences — are pretty damn impressive. But who could have thought that helicopters flying in formation would be so anticlimactic? (Perhaps because we’ve seen more dramatic helicopter flights in the movies.)

In spite of all that, Trump’s recitation of military history from the Revolution forward was inspirational (if at times highly imaginative and revisionist). And his call for unity is a little hard to reconcile with his recent and much more frequent messages and actions that divide us.

Trump called today’s American youth to enlist in the armed services, “and make a great statement in life.” A Trump supporter might have taken such words as an inspiring call to arms. But a critic could not help being struck by the irony of a man who so many times himself evaded service on account of bone spurs (that miraculously healed themselves at the end of the draft) encouraging our youth, “And you should do it.”

The fireworks display was especially entertaining. What most viewers didn’t know is that two competitive fireworks companies, Phantom Fireworks and Fireworks by Grucci, donated close to a million dollars of their pyrotechnic products to the show so that Trump could have the greatest fireworks show on earth — if not the universe.

(Their donation probably had nothing to do with hopes of influencing Trump to rethink his tariffs on Chinese goods, which would have a devastating impact on the companies’ earnings).

And not far away at Trump International Hotel, those hoping to benefit from attending the splashy ceremony (many of whom had been rewarded with VIP invitations for having donated to Trump’s campaign) were taking advantage of a special offer: a three-night stay during the holiday for the bargain price of $1,151-plus per night. As The Daily Beast reported, “Hotel guests could also enjoy a special ‘Red, White, and Bliss massage treatment’ at “Spa by Ivanka Trump” for $165.

Emoluments? Why ask on a day celebrating America’s return to greatness?

The Republican Party never was a particularly “Big Tent,” but Trump’s histrionics, tantrums, and (now) parades has turned it into more of a “Big Top.” Which, due to an unexpected rain, was seen on Fox News through what appeared to be a tear-stained transparent shield.

One wonders: Peanuts and Cracker Jacks at the State of the Union?

Robert A. Rees

Bob Rees teaches religion at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.

Clifton Jolley

Clifton Jolley is president of Advent Communications, Ogden.