ll of the blithe, occasionally lethal childishness of American political culture was on display Tuesday night during Donald Trump’s second State of the Union address. Most of what’s wrong with the speech predates the current Administration—you can’t blame Trump for the cowardly game of who claps when, or the emphasis, amid intractable ideological conflict, on “unity,” or the persistent presence of Rick Santorum on CNN, or the tacky, exploitative tradition of dragging, say, sick kids, belatedly emancipated prisoners, and the families of recently murdered Americans onto the balcony of the chamber of the House of Representatives to be mentioned less as people than as momentary props. Each practice is longstanding; nobody deserves credit for noticing their fraudulence only when the guy behind the podium is a racist, and a liar, and a creep. The whole thing feels like a sick game, except for the fact—and here is one of our deepest national paradoxes—that the ideas expressed, no matter how stupid the speaker or silly the venue, are, for many people in America and elsewhere, a matter of life or death.
For at least the past seven presidential election cycles, candidates on both sides have sought to use veterans, military leaders and the military itself to validate their credentials as potential commanders in chief.
In 1992, Bill Clinton received the endorsement of retired Adm. William Crowe, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Each election cycle has escalated this use of veterans as stage props, or useful attackers, such as in 2004 with the deployment of Swift boat veterans to attack John Kerry. To some extent, this politicization of the military has carried forward into office, with presidents from each party carefully using military audiences or imagery to frame policy statements or political activities.
.. In a public speech shortly after his inauguration, Mr. Trump delivered a blistering attack on the press before an audience of intelligence officers at the C.I.A. headquarters.
.. Seven days later, Mr. Trump used the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis standing by, to sign his controversial travel ban. Last February, he politicked before a crowd of troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., the home of the military’s headquarters for Middle East operations and special operations. In July of last year, during the commissioning of the aircraft carrier Gerald Ford, Mr. Trump told the assembled sailors that “I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it,” referring to his budget, adding, “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”
.. Vice President Mike Pence followed the president’s lead last month in a speech before American troops in Jordan, on the border with Syria, attacking Democrats in the middle of a budget fight that caused a brief government shutdown.
.. Mr. Trump’s proposed parade fits this pattern of politicizing the military and using it to further his political interests — not those of the military or the nation.
.. But beyond the costs and distraction of a parade, we should be wary of its long-term corrosive effects on our military, which must continue to serve and defend our country long after the Trump presidency ends.