So Thomas Jefferson said to John Adams hey, why don’t you take a crack at a first draft? Adams was older, had more seniority as it were. But he said no, and the following exchange ensued, writes Merrill D. Peterson in Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation:
“Why will you not? You ought to do it.”
“I will not.”
“What can be your reasons?”
“Reason first—you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second—I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third—you can write ten times better than I can.”
And that’s how it came to pass that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He sat in his little study in Philadelphia toiling over drafts until he was pleased. The text needed to do two or three different kinds of work. It needed to announce bold principles to the world in a way that would stand the test of time. It needed to rally the citizenry.
But most of all, it needed to make a case to the world that the colonists’ cause was justified. That was the main thing, and the main way it did that was in its series of indictments against King George III. The bulk of the text consists of 27 bullet points, as we’d say today, alleging this and that act of infamy and tyranny on the king’s part. His only interest in the people of the colonies, Jefferson wrote, was “to reduce them under absolute despotism.”
That was the point of the document: It was a brief against despotism.
And now, here we are, 243 years later, with a man sitting in the Oval Office who yearns to be a despot. You think he’s ever read the Declaration of Independence? He may have started it once or twice. But finished it? Actually, we’d better hope not, because the only lesson he’d take away from those 27 bullet points would be that he ought to try a few of them out (one of them, incidentally, notes that King George “has obstructed the administration of justice”).
We laugh at Trump. We have to laugh at him to stay sane. This military parade is a joke. This speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Is he kidding? Where Martin Luther King summoned our best angels, that buffoon is going to stand there and give a semi-literate lecture about things he knows nothing about? Maybe he’ll mention “Western liberalism” again, which is clearly to blame for all those junkies in L.A. he told Tucker Carlson about.
We laugh, but we also know that this is not very funny at all. The situation is without precedent and it is terrifying. A president who has no personal morality and nothing but contempt for democracy. A Senate Republican leader who cares only about party power. A congressional GOP that will disagree with the president here and there, on tariffs, but on the fundamental crimes he commits on a weekly basis—his abuse of power, his destruction of norms, his bending and breaking of the law—not only turns a blind eye but actively cheers him on.
The parade (which now appears to be stationary!) is a joke—but it’s not. Who else has military parades? Yes, France. Hilarious, don’t you think, that conservatives now cite France of all places to defend their actions? The Bastille Day Parade dates to 1880, around the dawn of the rise of Social Darwinism, and when France was still licking its wounds from the Franco-Prussian War and the calamities of the Commune. The Third Republic was on shaky ground. So, voila, a military parade!
So France—but among civilized democratic nations, basically only France. Other than France, guess where?
The number of military parades has increased dramatically in China under Xi Jinping. Of course it has! He named himself president for life. For a big parade in 2015, nearby factories were shut to ensure that the air would be clear. Dogs, falcons, and monkeys were deployed to scare away birds.
Who else loves parades? Vladimir Putin. Obviously. The biggest one every year is held on May 9 to celebrate the victory over the Nazis. The biggest one ever was held in 2015, with 200 armored vehicles and 150 planes and helicopters.
Finally, Trump’s buddy in North Korea. Loves parades! Loves showing off his missiles.
See a pattern here?
Let’s just say it. Big military displays are totalitarian. Small-d democrats don’t have them. Small-d democrats don’t freeze airplane travel in and out of National Airport for two hours to accommodate flyovers and extended fireworks. The only people who think of these things are people with inferiority complexes who don’t know that democracy requires humility.
Jimmy Breslin once memorably called Rudy Giuliani a “small man in search of a balcony.” Twenty years later, Giuliani’s client is a bloated man in search of a rally grounds. He thinks he has found one, in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
So: On our most sacred national day, a day that honors the battle against despotism, in front of the majestic temple built to pay tribute to the man who saved the republic—a temple, by the way, that was expressly designed on the idea that a memorial built “to a man who defended democracy should be based on a structure found in the birthplace of democracy” (Greece)—our despot despoils that site and everything it stands for by turning the holiday into a celebration of himself.
The event will pass. The crimes will not. In 243 years, maybe we’ve built up enough defenses to save us from this despot. We know for sure that we’re going to find out in this next year and a half if we have.