February 19, 2018

About parades and insecure rulers

President Trump seems intent on staging some glorious and costly parade, to showcase our military might and — presumably — to celebrate his own power as America’s Commander in Chief. Why does this sound familiar to me?

Nicolae CeauČ™escu was still ruling Romania with an iron fist in the summer of 1976, when my parents brought us back for a week-long visit with friends in the lush countryside. In one town near the border with Serbia (then called Yugoslavia), we happened upon a strange spectacle. A few days before Liberation Day, citizens were lining the main street and cheering as soldiers and workers and schoolchildren marched down the middle. It seemed the whole town had turned out for what amounted to a dress rehearsal for the big event — marchers and spectators included. Such was the hero worship of this hollow autocracy, that the farce of national strength and solidarity had to be practiced. 

The spectators even waited as the marchers ran back down a side street in order to repeat the exercise from the top. On TV, I had seen the fancy parades in Beijing, Moscow and even Bucharest, but it had never occurred to me just how absurd was the farce and how insecure the ruler — or to what degree everyone knew it. 

I have been to Paris for the July 14 parade, which is impressive and genuinely popular. It is embedded in the national consciousness, and never about the politicians who happen to oversee France's military professionals.

Romania got rid of Ceausescu's parades in 1989,
but North Korea's Kim is still going "strong"...
I doubt we civilians will be required to practice cheering in advance of Trump's big day, though the President has already branded as traitors any Members of Congress who didn’t stand and applaud for his State of the Union address. Personally, I need no practice. I’ve seen this movie before, about the cult of personality, and I don’t need to watch it again. #SpoilerAlert