Idolatry of the military is a hallmark of dictatorships.
In Miami, we know this all too well. We’ve lived our entire lives treated to Soviet-style displays of hawkish military might only 90 miles south of Key West in the Castros’ Cuba. That’s why President Donald Trump’s “marching orders” to the Pentagon to plan a grand-scale military parade in Washington make our stomachs turn.
“¡A la plaza con Fidel!” To the square with Fidel, commanded Fidel Castro supporters, coaxing thousands to show up to watch tanks roll and troops march through Havana’s Revolution Square, a show aimed at delivering the message to dissidents at home and the Yankees alike that the regime was capable of inflicting great loss of life to remain in power.
When the first Castro stepped down, only the first name in command changed, to Raúl. In fact, only a year ago, angry at President Barack Obama for his pro-democracy speech in Havana and his recognition of Cuban exiles in Miami as proof of what free Cubans can achieve, Raúl Castro’s marching troops bid Obama adiós from the presidency during a military parade with a bizarre chant by the troops saying they’d like to make Obama “a hat out of bullets to the head.”
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We sit in wait, post-Castro, to see whose name will be invoked next to rally people at the next military parade. You see, it’s nearly impossible for a nation to shed a totalitarian regime once the inflamed masses have bought into the power grab, opponents have been silenced, and the military benefits from a dictatorship’s enduring power.
For us, news that Trump’s military parade — on the heels of the president calling political opponents “treasonous” for not applauding him during his State of the Union address — is a replay of a movie we’ve seen before.
The Trump movie may be made in America and playing in the name of American patriotism, but it falls in the same autocratic genre.
Trump — an egomaniac like Fidel Castro, charismatic to his followers and repulsive to those who see through the façade — has surrounded himself with military commanders in the White House. “My generals,” he likes to call them.
Trump uses the power of his office to inflame passions against certain groups of people — immigrants, Muslims, Democrats — the same way Castro egged on Cubans to tell on their neighbors and to marginalize those leaving the country, turning ordinary people into accomplices of the regime’s inhumanity and crimes.
Trump, a critic of President Obama for resorting to executive orders when the obstructionist Republican Congress failed to act, hasn’t passed much legislation through Congress other than the tax bill. But in a period of months he has unilaterally signed excessive numbers of executive orders drastically changing immigration, environmental and economic policy.
In tweets, Trump is constantly bashing and even threatening the media — the same thing Fidel Castro did in Cuba until he shut them down and sent journalists into exile. And that was the end of the opposition.
Most recently — in light of his publicized marital infidelities and an unstoppable #MeToo movement exposing sexual misconduct and abuse, of which he stands accused — Trump has embraced with passion the task of shoving his idea of God down our throats. Castro, too, meddled with religion, turning worshipers into pariahs and exiling priests and nuns. Then, he allowed it again when it became politically expeditious for his image during Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998.
But most incredible of all is that Americans would buy a multimillion-dollar military parade from a president who is a notorious draft dodger. Five times Trump got deferments — including for bone spurs — to avoid serving during the Vietnam War.
This is a man who insulted Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War hero who was tortured and kept in solitary confinement for years in a North Vietnamese prison.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He was a hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
This is a man who relentlessly insulted the Pakistani-American parents of a fallen veteran, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, killed in the Iraq War in 2004.
That was on the campaign trail. Words matter more now, but as president, he’s worse. From the menacing, divisive tone and content of his speeches to the way he’s changing fundamentals of American life to suit his narrative, Trump is a bully and an autocrat.
All of us have the right to clap — or not — for our president.
All of us have the right to champion whatever cause we believe in without fear of persecution.
All of us have the right to worship whatever God we want — or none at all.
We stage parades to celebrate seasons, sports championships, and yes, to honor our veterans and mark Independence Day.
These are the people’s parades, arising from tradition and the pure joy of celebrating being free people, not charades imposed by a demagogue with an insatiable ego and a draft-dodging image to wipe clean.
The Pentagon, alas, is on parade-planning mode.
To the square with Trump, comrades!