News & Politics

Donald Trump’s Military Parade Is Straight out of the Fascist Playbook

The president is giving his base exactly what it wants.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Petit-fascist Donald Trump may finally get his very own military parade. At last he will be able to put on a Napoleon costume and parade about under the big top like "Tom Thumb" in P.T. Barnum's circus.

As both the Washington Post and New York Times reported on Wednesday, Trump has apparently told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he wants "a military parade in Washington similar to the Bastille Day parade he witnessed in Paris in July." An unnamed military official told the Post that the "marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France. ... This is being worked at the highest levels of the military."

Trump's proposed parade has already been widely criticized because it will be wasteful, embarrassing, and beneath the dignity and honor of the United States military and its service people. Trump is indifferent to those concerns. As a would-be despot, Trump considers a military parade as his personal rite of power. On this point, he is correct. Such displays are expected from an authoritarian. And like his heroes and role models of despotic power, including Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and China's Xi Jinping, Trump will not be denied his own martial spectacle.

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For an authoritarian, a military parade fulfills several roles.

It celebrates and announces the great leader's power by intimidating his foes both international and domestic.

The authoritarian leader is the literal physical embodiment of the State. He imagines himself to be strong and powerful. By implication, the military parade is a public display of that supposed truth.

Because they are "masculine" ideologies, fascism and other types of authoritarian ideologies rely upon and emphasize phallocentric imagery. Donald Trump is obsessed with the size of his penis: He has mentioned his "great" organ many times both during interviews as well as presidential debates. A military parade is the logical extension of Trump and other right-wing ideologues' obsessions with masculine virility and potency.

Fascist and other authoritarian regimes embrace militant nationalism as one of their guiding principles.

As Wilhelm Reich, the psychoanalyst and student of Nazi Germany, so astutely observed, the military parade is a display of uniformity, coordinated movement and libidinal energy -- in total, a manifestation of right-wing aesthetics -- that provides emotional meaning and coherence for authoritarian regimes and their public.

The military parade is also an attempt by the authoritarian leader to shift attention away from scandals (here, the Robert Mueller investigation and Trump's likely collusion with Russia) as well as other failures both at home and abroad.

It is tempting to mock Trump's military parade as an example of his malignant narcissism and male insecurities. But to dismiss or make fun of Trump's military parade is also to diminish the threat posed by its potent symbolic politics and the social pathology and anti-democratic impulses shared by the tens of millions of Americans who voted Trump into office.

Political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler have documented a decades-long increase in authoritarian values among the American people -- and this is especially true for conservatives and right-leaning independents.

In one survey from 2015, 43 percent of Republicans reported that under some circumstances they would support a military coup in the United States.

As reported by the Washington Post, 52 percent of Republicans in a recent poll said they would support postponing or delaying the 2020 election if Trump proposed such a scenario.

Only 30 percent of millennials believe that it is "essential" to live in a democracy.

Trump voters give Vladimir Putin, a foreign dictator, a higher approval rating than Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state and U.S. senator.

Donald Trump only cares about remaining popular among his base of racist, bigoted, lonely, angry and resentful white voters. He is their avatar as well as preacher, teacher and hero all combined in one person.

This is a love affair. As recently reported by Gallup, 90 percent of Republicans approve of the petit-fascist demagogue Donald Trump.

Trump's planned military parade will feature the rumbling of tanks, the tread of marching boots and the roar of jets in the capital of what was once the world's leading democracy. Those who exist outside of the right-wing echo chamber and its bubble of lies and ignorance will see this spectacle as one more example of how Donald Trump continues to threaten and erode America's democratic norms.

But what will Trump's human deplorables see? How will they feel?

Trump will be made to look powerful. His followers will feel strong and patriotic. Trump appeals to the lowest common denominator of civic virtue and intellect. For his supporters, his appeal is simultaneously both superficial and visceral. Ultimately, Trump's opponents in the so-called Resistance continue to lose because they are persistent in their belief that reason and intellect will eventually win over the right-wing mob. They will not.

 

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Follow him on Twitter.