Trump, Tanks and Late Imperialism

A military parade may be just what America needs.

American soldiers rehearse the inaugural parade of Donald Trump in Washington DC, January 15, 2017
American soldiers rehearse the inaugural parade of Donald Trump in Washington DC, January 15, 2017 (USAF/Brian Ferguson)

Donald Trump wants to see tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue. He couldn’t get a military parade for his inauguration, but, after attending the Bastille Day celebrations in France, the American is determined to get one this year.

“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” an official told The Washington Post.

Of course, this is primarily about Trump overcompensating for his insecurities by wrapping himself in the American flag. (Literally, look what he did to the Oval Office.)

But it also says something about this moment in American history.

Peak

All the pomp and circumstance we associate with the British Empire was a late Victorian invention. It was a full two centuries after the Battle of Plassey, which established British rule in Bengal, that Benjamin Disraeli crowned Victoria empress of India — right around the time when other European powers and Japan started to seriously compete for colonies.

American hyperpower has similarly peaked. Now its status as the world’s only superpower is slipping away. It has been unable to win its wars in the Middle East. Other powers, particularly China and Russia, are pushing up against American supremacy in Asia and Europe. Problems are piling up at home, from health care to infrastructure to the politicization of the courts and the security state.

Tanks and flags would be a nice distraction; a chance for America to feel — how would the president put it? — great again.