Thursday, February 08, 2018

Hamilton Versus Trump Part 2: Military Parade Edition

by Michael Dorf

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has confirmed that the Pentagon is drawing up plans for a huge/tremendous/biggest-ever/insert-Trumpian-adjective-here military parade modeled on (but better/huger/tremendouser/biglier than) the French parade that the Maximum Leader witnessed during his Paris vacation last summer. Because I am engaged in a semester-long project of reading the Federalist Papers cover to cover with my seminar students, I couldn't help but wonder what Alexander Hamilton would think about this idea.

Understandably, much of the initial criticism of Trump's proposed military parade has called attention to the fact that such parades are characteristic of North Korea, the old Soviet Union, and other dictatorships, ultimately displaying force to cover weakness. In apparent response, the administration has said that Trump's parade will be a way of showing appreciation for our troops, rather than displaying military might as a means of intimidation. And yet . . .

1) That's not credible. Here is the story about what exactly impressed Trump in Paris and his goals to "top" it in Washington:
“It was a tremendous day, and to a large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July 4th in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump said. “We’re going to have to try to top it, but we have a lot of planes going over and a lot of military might, and it was really a beautiful thing to see, and representatives from different wars and different uniforms.” 
Macron rode in the Bastille Day parade standing upright in an open-top military command car, surrounded by hundreds of military guards on horseback. The two-hour spectacle included tanks rolling down the Champs Elysees and helicopters and fighter jets flying overhead. 
Trump said he wanted the U.S. to have “a really great parade to show our military strength.”
2) If the point of the exercise were to show appreciation to US troops, one would think that the funds for the parade are being misdirected. Every dollar spent on Trump's parade is a dollar not spent on providing medical care and other services for service members and veterans.

3) Perhaps most interestingly, as Hamilton emphasizes in Federalist No. 8, even honoring our military service members for their brave service is a double-edged sword that carries with it the risk of undercutting democracy.

As documented by Lin-Manuel Miranda as well as actual historians, Hamilton was a hero of the Revolutionary War. Establishing a pattern that would be followed by some other American military heroes (think of Eisenhower's military-industrial-complex speech or John McCain's efforts to rein in torture by the Bush administration), Hamilton used the credibility that his heroic military service conferred to call into question policies that would, in his view, give too much power to the military. In my last Hamilton-Versus-Trump entry, I quoted Federalist No. 8. It bears repeating. Hamilton warns that:
in a country, where the perpetual menacings of danger oblige the government to be always prepared to repel it, her armies must be numerous enough for instant defence. The continual necessity for his services enhances the importance of the soldier, and proportionably degrades the condition of the citizen. The military state becomes elevated above the civil. The inhabitants of territories often the theatre of war, are unavoidably subjected to frequent infringements on their rights, which serve to weaken their sense of those rights; and by degrees, the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors, but as their superiors. The transition from this disposition to that of considering them as masters, is neither remote nor difficult: but it is very difficult to prevail upon a people under such impressions, to make a bold, or effectual resistance, to usurpations supported by the military power.
Hamilton made this point in the service of a broader argument in response to fears that the new national government would be too strong and thus end up oppressing the People in ways similar to the British under George III. Hamilton's core argument is that war would be more likely in the absence of the Union than with a Union under the Constitution, and thus ratification of the Constitution would prevent a semi-permanent garrison state, which would be the greater threat to civil government.

Indeed, in Federalist Nos. 1-29, this subject--the relative likelihood of war with or without the Constitution--preoccupies Publius more than any other subject. And notably, in the essays on standing armies as well as more generally, the concern is not so much how to avoid the depredations of war itself, but how to avoid the secondary effects--the breakdown of civil liberties and civil government--to which a state of constant military readiness can lead.

Whether Publius was right or wrong in his/their predictions has been an interesting topic of discussion with my students, but I want to set it aside for now to observe a sub-theme that is taken for granted. Hamilton (like Eisenhower, McCain, and others after him) valued and respected military service and military valor, but was clear-eyed about the possible abuses of military power. Trump is not--or if he is, he is clear-eyed in his desire to abuse military power.

6 comments:

Joe said...

Hamilton seemed a bit less concerned about the military later on, including supporting building up an army (which Washington in effect put him at the head of) during the Adams Administration. Overall, other than in propaganda essays to advance the ratification of the Constitution, how "clear-eyed" was Hamilton before and after the ratification of the Constitution on this front?

The Constitution as a whole puts various limits on the military including limited funding (two years), Congress have various controls (including on the president, see for example a long article by Marty Lederman and David Barron) and the Third Amendment. The public at the Founding, to the degree we care, was wary of a standing army at all. It was mainly supposed to protect us from Indian attacks, there as no navy to speak of and it was felt the militia would be called up when necessary.

Shag from Brookline said...

A few years back in advising/financing one of my adult children regarding a dubious business investment/venture, I told him "I did not want to rain on, rein in or reign over his parade." I don't know if this was an original expression, but parents sometimes have to cooperate and get out of the way of their children as they learn to cope with life. But the role of a president differs from that of a parent as there are rules and history that cannot be ignored. So I think it appropriate to take steps to "rain on, rein in and reign over" Trump's proposed parade.

As a youngster during the late 1930s, I became aware of military parades when I would accompany my parents on ritual Memorial Day activities by visiting several local cemeteries to visit graves of relatives. I noticed flags on certain graves. There were small parades of military veterans, some with bands. These were very respectful of those who had served in the military, honoring them. America was not yet in WW II. A relative had been drafted into the Army around 1940 at the age of 40 or close to it. He visited us in his uniform. But he was soon discharged because of age. There was the patriotic fervor following Pearl Harbor, with many young men enlisting. When I got to Boston English High School in 1943, I learned of the course on military drill. We had uniforms, khaki shirts and pants like the Army. (Prior to 1943, the uniforms were in the style of WW I.) Near the end of the school year, there would be the annual Schoolboy parade through Boston streets, with many spectators. I graduated in 1947, bu which time WW II had ended. Fellows from our neighborhood came home following completion of military duties. Some did not. Some windows displayed situations where the son did not come home. But people were happy that WW II was over.

Then Korea broke out in 1950. I was in college at the time with an educational deferment. This permitted me to enter and finish law school in 1954, by which time the Korean conflict was over. I still had my draft determent obligation, which resulted in my military time from April 1955 to April 1957. It was peacetime. But I found the military inefficient and boring. Those who had served during WW II and also in the Korean conflict were under pressures not to reenlist as there was a recognition of potential expenses for those planning a military career, having invested perhaps 8-10 years during WW II and Korea. As for myself, I was just anxious to get back home and start to practice law. There weren't too many Korean conflict parades.

Then Vietnam crept in during Ike's presidency. That became a quagmire for the military. There were no parades honoring Vietnam military service. It took a long time for the military to recover (if it ever truly did) from Vietnam. Donald Trump had his bone spur medical deferments. Many others had deferments from the draft as well.

I do not consider myself a military veteran, describing my stint as a post-Korea pre-Vietnam veteran, a time of peace. But I do recall in basic training going through the infiltration range with bullets overhead, hugging the ground, personally learning being "scared s**t." Much of my 87 years have had American wars that continue today.

The world has changed since Hamilton's days, even since Ike's days. We have a standing military, all volunteer. Would Americans' views on war and the military be different if we still had a draft? It's not clear. But it seems clear that Trump's proposed military parade should be rained on, reined in and reigned over. The NYTimes has an informative editorial on this today.

By the way, Hamilton died at a relatively young age. Had he lived as long as Jefferson or Madison, perhaps his views might have changed from those expressed in the Federalist Papers. Predictions over time can be tested. But hindsight is not always 20-20.

Michael C. Dorf said...

Joe: Hamilton cites the 2-year limit on appropriations as an important safeguard against a military becoming too strong over time. In class, the students and I thought this was naive. But to be fair to Hamilton's later views, he doesn't deny in the Federalist Papers that there would be a regular military. His argument is a comparative one: that it will be less of a danger than the America under constant arms that would come into existence should the Union fail.

Shag: Thanks for the brief account of your most interesting life and times thus far.

Joe said...

Over at Lawfare, there was a series of post on a new book on Madison, and the various limits on the military and presidential power regarding military engagements were discussed.

At one point, an argument was made that the "declare war" clause is not really the be all, end all in that respect, in comparison to other provisions such as the two year limit. In practice, said limit loses force because a large powerful standing army with broad discretion to the President is provided fairly willy-nilly (with exceptions), but it need not be. I think those provisions are important. My concern here was more how Hamilton actually acted as compared to some nice words in the Federalist essays.

As usual, I too appreciate Shag's autobiographical comments in lieu of a complete volume.

Shag from Brookline said...

Mike's parenthetical " ... ((think of Eisenhower's military-industrial-complex speech ...) " is to be considered with what President JFK faced shortly after his inauguration with Cuba. Ike's administration had left this on the military table. It turned out to be a disaster. Also, Ike had introduced military advisors in Vietnam to aid French failures. Was Ike's speech an effort at a military mea culpa? Yes, Ike brought an end to the Korean conflict in 1953. I was aware of Ike's speech at the time. But I was not fully aware of the extent of Ike's involvement of US military in Vietnam or of Ike's military plans for Cuba. JFK as C-I-C was quickly involved with the military-industrial-complex left by actions of Ike's administration. Many praised Ike's speech but seemed to forget Ike's roles with Vietnam and Cuba. Years later in my semi-retirement while auditing courses as a senior citizen at a local university as we were entering the 21st century, I read that Ike's son, a military man himself, stated that his late father's speech was misunderstood with respect to the Vietnam War, that Ike was not a peacenik. But recently a grandson of Ike praised Ike's speech as a warning for not only Vietnam but subsequent American wars. The "history" of the meaning of Ike's speech has evolved over time. (I learned as a senior citizen audit student that in an early draft of his speech Ike had referred to the "congressional-military-industrial-complex" but was advised to delete "congressional" as perhaps politically unwise. Might things have turned out differently if Ike left it in?)

Joe said...

Was reading an account (with interviews -- John Prados was an editor) of the Pentagon Papers, after watching "The Post," and it apparently covered things back to the days of FDR (at least Truman).