Trump’s distorted idea of patriotism

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s latest scam is to accuse his critics of being unpatriotic, and to encourage the old gimmick of conspicuous flag-waving. He alleges that Democrats who at his first State of the Union Address declined to stand up or clap for his self-aggrandizing applause lines were “treasonous.”

At the same time, he has ordered the Pentagon to start planning for a massive military parade in Washington later this year displaying American armed muscle, complete with the latest tanks and other weapons of destruction in its arsenal.

At a meeting at the Pentagon last month, a front-page Washington Post story has reported, “the marching orders were: ‘I want a parade like the one in France.’ This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the story, saying: “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe. He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”

Trump got the idea from his visit to France last year.

When he later met French President Emmanuel Macron at a UN General Assembly meeting in New York, Trump told reporters of the Bastille Day parade, “It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen.”

He told Macron, “We’re going to have to try to top it.” Prior to his inauguration last year, Trump told the Post: “We’re going to show the people as we build up our military. … That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue” — which would take it past his hotel there — or “flying over New York City or flying over Washington, D.C.”

American history is full of such displays of military might, usually after celebrations of some major success such as the ends of the two World Wars and the 1991 end of the Gulf War. But American troops are still engaged in Afghanistan and other Middle East trouble-spots that offer little rationale for ostentatious celebration right now.

Trump’s interest in staging such a parade seems to be tied to his penchant for public displays of his own patriotism, which was never reflected in any military service of his own but rather in repeated deferments based on physical conditions.

His recent pivot to attacking political critics, especially Democrats, for failing to show respect in standing for or applauding his remarks to Congress is a clear example of Trump’s weaponizing of patriotism, or apparent lack thereof, in partisan political warfare.

It also has surfaced in his fight with pro football players who have knelt during the playing the national anthem in their protest against racial discrimination.

Some victorious Philadelphia Eagles players in this year’s Super Bowl have already indicated they will pass up an expected invitation to the Trump White House.

By equating patriotism with loyalty to him, or agreement with his political policies and observations, brings to mind the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his contemptible legal henchman/fixer, the late Roy Cohn.

In Trump’s latest attacks on the FBI for an alleged internal conspiracy against him, he was reported even to have bizarrely asked, “Where is my Roy Cohn?” to bail him out in the current investigation that could lead to obstruction of justice charges and possible impeachment. Neither his self-recused attorney general, Jeff Sessions, nor his first FBI director, James Comey, was ready to willing to play the Cohn role.

So now Trump is attempting to sell his own news that opposition to him is somehow a demonstration of disloyalty or “treason” to the country as well as to him.

It’s a pitch that will be a very difficult sell to other Trump loyalists, as well as to the general public. Choosing sides in politics is a free speech and free association right in America.

Hopefully, it will remain so even in the era of Trump.

Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books.