This post is updated.
The White House has spent the better part of the past 24 hours arguing that President Trump didn’t actually mean things he said: that he didn't actually want a government shutdown and that he was just joking about that whole Democrats-who-didn’t-applaud-me-committed-treason thing.
But now we find out Trump was very serious about something that might have seemed like so much Trumpian hot air: a military parade.
The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker report that Trump has set planning in motion to make his long-expressed vision a reality. The directive was made during a meeting Jan. 18 with top generals in a Pentagon room reserved for top-secret discussions.
It’s not 100 percent clear it will happen, but one source said it “is being worked at the highest levels of the military,” and a White House official has confirmed it's in the planning stage. The most likely dates are Memorial Day on May 28, Independence Day on July 4 and Veterans Day on Nov. 11 — with the last being the apparent preference of military leaders because it might be more associated with the end of World War I and less with politics and Trump.
But Trump's hand in making this a reality, in a way, can't help but make it about him. In fact, this might be the most thoroughly Trump idea of his presidency. Not only are we talking about a huge show of pageantry and strength that could test the bounds of practicality (not to mention the federal budget), but we've also got Trump upending decades of American political tradition to do so — and undoubtedly drawing the ire of opponents who will allege he's acting like an authoritarian.
The United States has had military parades before, and its presidents have been spectators at other countries' military parades — including Trump going to France's Bastille Day celebration last year (which seems to have cemented his desire to have a parade of his own) and President George W. Bush appearing at a military parade in Russia in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. The most recent American military parades, though, have more often than not been associated with wartime. Presidents Truman and Kennedy had military equipment in their inaugural parades when the Cold War flared up. Military parades since then have generally been on a smaller scale and not held in Washington.
In contrast, there is also virtually no chance Trump will skimp on this parade. Trump said after being French President Emmanuel Macron's guest for Bastille Day that “We're going to have to try and top it,” after all, and he has spent the lion's share of his 71 years on this planet attempting to attach the words “biggest” and “best” to his brand. If plans go through, you can bet Trump won't cut any corners because he will view it as a reflection of him, his presidency, and the military that he promised would be bigger and stronger than ever before.
And none of this can be separated from what Trump has done and said vis-a-vis North Korea. It's perhaps the one country most closely associated with large-scale military parades, and its leader just so happens to be engaging in an escalating battle of words with Trump. The White House can swear up and down that this isn't about Trump or about sending a message to Kim Jong Un, but this is, after all, a president who recently tweeted at Kim that his nuclear button was “bigger” and more potent.
Democrats will make it all about Trump, and it will be hard to argue with them. They'll argue it's a waste and unbecoming of a U.S. president. Trump, meanwhile, will revel in the controversy it causes and the spectacle, insisting he's just promoting the American military and suggesting that people who oppose it oppose the military. (This will undoubtedly happen.)
It will be one massive troll, complete with tanks and flyovers and marching soldiers. And it will be thoroughly Trump.