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US: Memento Mori, Donald – and no tanks for the memory

J. BROOKS SPECTOR admits he has definitively had enough of the temperament, behaviour and oafishness of the current US president. He will not applaud him – and if that means he is engaging in treasonous behaviour, well, so be it. Enough already.

Somewhere along the way, Donald Trump crossed a Rubicon with his utter outrageousness; his flip, off-the-cuff comments; his slurs and racially charged invective, and his denigration of his opponents – both domestically and internationally. Some of it has been funny in a jejune, juvenile kind of way in the fashion of small boys who have stumbled across big words or have first learned about the uses of the double entendre and how it can have a sexual innuendo as well as a way of taking that mickey out of an opponent. And he has used this facility of his with great effect, heaping ridicule upon his opponents to the great delight of his supporters and the discomfiture of pretty much everybody else. Everywhere.

And all of this puts off to one side his frantic, even frenetic gyrations on a whole roster of domestic and international policy choices – where his cabinet and congressional supporters aren’t sure of his views, even after he has begun to pronounce on them in public. And for the sake of this argument, we can even put aside the running tally of over 2,000 substantive, deliberate misstatements of demonstrable facts or outright falsehoods/fake news, or, in plainer language, lies.

But it has been his last two assaults on our sensibilities that should outrage us beyond some point of no return for an elected American official.

The first of these came about as he spoke about his recent State of the Union speech when, in a public rally afterwards, he called out Democratic representatives and senators for acting treasonously in failing to applaud his every punch line. Treason has a specific meaning in the US Constitution and it certainly does not include a failure to applaud a presidential address.

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Wait a minute. It is easy to dial up examples of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sitting on his hands (or at least keeping them in his lap) during one or more of then-President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speeches. Was Paul Ryan a treasonous danger to the republic, or was that, somehow, very different from a few days earlier? And if not Ryan, what about that GOP congressman who shouted at Obama right in the middle of one of those State of the Union speeches, “You lie!”

By Trumpian logic, that degenerate congressman should have been drawn, quartered, and then had his head stuck on a pike outside the Capitol Building steps as a warning to others. But the last time I looked, the places where those “great leaders” received mandatory applause have been places like current-day North Korea, in Enver Hoxha’s old-style Albania, or perhaps today’s Beijing at a periodic party congress, or in Moscow even now.

But the appropriation of such mandatory applause and accusations of treason for those who fail to follow orders in the American political context surely smacks of a longing for authoritarian-style obeisance in sync with those places where visible disagreement with the supreme leader demonstrated through a lack of enthusiasm merits serious punishment – sometimes even extending to the progeny of those non-applauders.

Such charges of treason and the petulant stamping of the little feet of a US politician are just out of bounds – and should have remained there. Immediately after Trump’s comments, a censure resolution and a demand for a formal apology should have been introduced – by the Republican leadership – to ensure there is no mistaking the presence of a red line on partisan presidential invective. (Sadly, somebody seems to have stolen what courage the congressional GOP leadership may still possess, put it in lock box, and then promptly lost the key.)

But there has been even more astounding news in the past few days, something that has made it clear Donald Trump has literally no conception of what it means to be an elected civilian leader. And this Donald Trump – yes, the same man who had bone spurs on either his left or right foot (he can’t remember which, that fellow) that had precluded his service in the military during the Vietnam War – now wants a massive military parade in his honour, right down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. To get this, he has made it clear that the planners in the Pentagon must figure out how to carry out such an event – even if it will cost more than $20-million and destroy the streets in Washington with the treads of those massive tanks and such.

Now it is true there have been military victory parades in Washington in the past. Specifically these have come after the successful conclusion of the Civil War, after World Wars I and II, and after the first Iraq War. But those were public commemorations of wars won by American arms, and people were eager to acknowledge the country’s forces in their success, and to honour their service.

And yes, it is true that a very special infantry battalion, The Old Guard, has been party to many parades in Washington in the past, but that is a unit dressed in 18th century period costumes, complete with powdered wigs, knee breeches, cutaway coats and carrying unloaded rifles and sabres of the time, along with fifes and drums. They have not been driving M1-A1 Abrams tanks or self-propelled missile launchers.

Older Americans may also remember The Old Guard’s sombre participation in the funeral procession that bore the slain John F. Kennedy’s casket from the Capitol Building to his final resting spot at Arlington Cemetery – but then, too, there were no tanks, no missiles. Just an antique artillery wagon for the casket and a horse with a rider’s boots pointing backwards in the stirrups, symbolic of a fallen leader.

But President Bone Spur has made no secret of how deeply impressed he was by that massive Bastille Day parade in Paris he had been invited to by French President Emmanuel Macron as a special guest of honour, as well as by all that VVIP pomp and ceremony he had witnessed in Beijing at the Forbidden City during his visit to China. The two leaders, Macron and Xi Jinping, clearly had the measure of their visitor and what had humbled and impressed him.

One could almost see him thinking, these two welcomes were just so much better than that wimpy annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City – the one with its giant cartoon character balloons or that wonderfully bizarre precision lawn chair marching drill team, or anything else Manhattan could make happen. In comparison to that parade, the now-new-ish president must have begun fretting and wondering just how he could top these French and Chinese versions to mark something or other – and surely not with a department store-sponsored street party!

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He has been a man who was clearly made greatly envious by the over-the-top pageantry designed to put foreigner visitors in their place. (Of course China and France have been doing such things for a very long time and they know how to do it with élan – and their two cities were actually designed for just such events.) But Trump has obviously also been deeply affected by his current adversary – North Korea – as well.

Now there is a nation whose massive parades with uncounted members of military personnel, tanks, missile carriers and jets overhead, with the stuff on the ground rolling through the streets of Pyongyang with a zillion flags are a staple of cable news channels whenever they want to highlight North Korea’s state of military preparedness. And then, of course, a person of Trump’s generation would have been witness to frequent film and television broadcasts (with the inevitable, appropriately ominous soundtrack) of those massive yearly May Day parades in Moscow (tanks and missile of course) now replaced by a parade in honour of victory in World War II, or even by historical footage of Nazi rallies and marches shown on yet other cable channel broadcasts focused on history.

But none of these examples links with American behaviour. Inaugural parades for new presidents usually have featured The Old Guard and various military bands, yes, but tanks? Missiles? Can anyone recall armed personnel carriers and missile launchers rumbling along among the high school bands from Keokuk, Iowa or community drum and bugle corps groups from upstate New York? Aw, c’mon. No way.

I am willing to guess that the president is a kind of man-child who still smarts over a memory that he simply never had enough chances to play with his toy soldiers or BB gun, and, as a result, he has had an unscratched itch ever since.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, with his pen dripping with both accuracy and sarcasm, nailed what must be going through Trump’s dreams when he wrote, the other day, that:

... (victory parades were) originally meant for a returning general who had conquered territory and killed at least 5,000 of the enemy, but it was later changed to honor emperors and members of their families. Trump qualifies as a victorious commander, having vanquished enemies foreign (Islamic State) and domestic (Cryin’ Chuck Schumer), and as an emperor, having said that those who don’t applaud him commit treason against the state.

First in the Roman triumph procession were the magistrates and members of the Senate; first in the Trump triumph would come Devin Nunes, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Tom Cotton and the other magistrates supportive of Trump. Next in the Roman triumph came the spoils of war: gold and silver, treasures, and paintings and carvings showing moments from the conflict. In Trump’s triumph, the spoils would include models of Trump hotel and golf properties, the nuclear football, a float with a very large button, and chunks of the border wall, carried by Mexicans.

Next in the Roman triumph, to the crowd’s jeers, came the captured prisoners in chains: leaders, soldiers and sometimes family members, to be put on display after the parade or executed. Trump’s triumph would feature all his foes, in irons: the ‘dreamers,’ NFL players who kneel for the national anthem, women who alleged sexual misconduct by Trump, the fake-news media, Robert Mueller, James Comey, FBI agents, Puerto Ricans, Trump’s primary opponents, Hillary Clinton, Steve Bannon.

Next, in a cloud of incense, would come the Roman general, or emperor, in a chariot driven by four horses, holding a laurel branch and sceptre and wearing a purple and gold tunic and a painted toga. A slave would hold a golden crown over his head. The emperor’s children and courtiers rode alongside his carriage on horseback, followed by the soldiers in togas and laurel crowns, shouting ‘Io triumphe’ — Hail, triumphant — at their leader.

Trump’s triumph would use identical trappings, though he might eschew the toga for a more tasteful flight suit. Donald Jr., Eric Trump, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller and John Kelly would escort him on horseback. Instead of troops shouting ‘Hail triumphant’ at Trump, handling that duty would be Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and other Fox News personalities.

Toward the end of the Roman triumph procession, two white oxen were sacrificed at the Temple of Jupiter and the prisoners killed. Trump’s triumph, by contrast, would pause outside the Trump International Hotel. Though executing his opponents could be problematic, Trump might stand in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and shoot somebody, just for symbolism. Mission accomplished.

There’s only one problem with this plan, as I see it. In the Roman triumph, a slave would ride with the general in his chariot and repeatedly whisper into his ear, ‘Memento mori’: Remember, you are mortal.”

Watch Aida’s Triumphal March:

The problem in today’s Washington is that there is nobody around who can manage that particular feat. By the same token, there are simply not enough people in Congress, at least not yet, who will be prepared to put their courage on the line and rein him in through political means. Not yet, at least, but, the 2018 mid-term elections beckon and things may change on the courage front. Otherwise, that Keokuk high school band had better start practising the Triumphal March from Verdi’s great opera, Aida. DM

Photo: US President Donald J. Trump at the official reception to the opening day of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, 07 July 2017. EPA/DANIEL KOPATSCH

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