Thursday, July 4, 2019

Why 60-ton tanks cannot drive across DC bridges

Gail Collins, at the NY Times, is Wishing for a Tank-Free Fourth. But she admits It could be worse. There’s always James Buchanan. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Here’s Collins’ essay in full (for those of you who might not track the Times). And consider that for even the most serious of matters, there is always a modicum of humor. (To start, the bridges are rated for 10 tons.)

Happy Fourth of July, everybody. I want you to have a great day. No moaning about the state of the nation.

Don’t obsess about Donald Trump! It’s true he thought watching a bunch of tanks roll through Washington, D.C., would be a great way of celebrating our national character. Fortunately, it turned out the city streets couldn’t support his vision. The military came up with a compromise, dragging in tanks and other tanklike vehicles on flatbed trucks, in a very expensive show totally unrelated to their actual function.

Some people might think of this as a metaphor for the whole Trump administration. Feel free. It’s Independence Day.

This is a moment when we’re meant to think about our founding fathers, and it’s good to remember the warts along with the heroics. We celebrate Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence, who risked everything to throw off the yoke of British tyranny. But he was also a rich kid who inherited a fortune from his father and then lost most of it due to business ineptitude.

Pause to contemplate whether that reminds you of anybody we know.

The Declaration of Independence was actually written by a committee of five — besides Jefferson there was John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert Livingston of New York. Franklin was 70 at the time — younger than Joe Biden! We don’t remember much about the last two, and perhaps you could look them up as a holiday project.

As a start, I can tell you they were both great citizens who would never have staged a parade in their own honor with taxpayer money.

Besides being a military hero, George Washington set the country on its course to democracy by quashing talk about making him king after the Revolution and refusing to allow his fellow citizens to call him “Your Excellency.”

We will stop here for a second to recall that Donald Trump’s friendship with Kim Jong-un got a big boost when Kim wrote Trump a letter referring to him as “Your …” Well, you can guess.

Although Trump has taken only a few steps into North Korea, he must have seen those massive military parades in Kim’s honor and maybe gotten a little jealous. Back in 2017, when he made his first official visit to France, Trump was wowed when he got to join President Emmanuel Macron reviewing the Bastille Day parade. There was something about all those guys with guns marching past you.

We’ve been careening toward tankification ever since. It’s really a shame he didn’t start his presidency with a visit to Indonesia, where they celebrate Independence Day with pole-climbing contests.

Trump is sort of the anti-George Washington, a president who thinks everything should be about him, including holidays. Last year, when he was asked the traditional Thanksgiving question about what he was most grateful for, the answer almost instantly turned to, um, himself. (“I’ve made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn’t believe it.”)

Well, he did pardon the turkeys.

Maybe we should feel lucky that the special parade plans weren’t a lot worse. Imagine the possibilities. We could have Ivanka skipping along in front, tossing flowers to the common folk while Jared follows behind on a leash.

The president doesn’t think the whole affair is going to be very expensive — after all, the government already has a bunch of tanks and planes. “All we need is the fuel,” explained the man whose first term is going to run up a $5 trillion deficit.

We’ve had Independence Day celebrations at the White House since Jefferson’s time, and some have worked out better than others. In 1845, when James Polk was president, wayward fireworks killed two bystanders. Polk was not really a lucky guy. When he was a teenager, he was operated on for a urinary stone removal without anesthetics, and it’s possible the procedure left him impotent. I am telling you all this as a reminder that there’s a whole lot more to our national history than military hardware.

Exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day. They had been huge rivals, but in retirement they started exchanging letters and became friends. It’s a lovely story, right? And I believe it’s true, even though it was a lot easier to manipulate political legends back in the days before the Freedom of Information Act, which was signed into law on July 4, 1966.

We’ve had a lot of great moments and national heroes, but the best thing about the American story is how we’ve moved forward even through totally terrible administrations. This is a country that elected Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But it also survived Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Warren Harding.

Enjoy the fireworks and drink a toast to awful presidents. If we got through James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Watergate, we can probably get through anything.

Which is pretty much our current challenge.

Happy Independence Day.

Yes, that was fun. But now consider the flip. For every modicum of humor, there is always a dark side. Think of Trump’s Tank day as a rehearsal for what he could (would?) do when he loses the 2020 election.

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