Tanks for the Memories

Two tanks arrive for Trump's National Mall speech.

In yet another you-can't-make-this-shit-up moment, Donald Trump delivered a hackneyed, mostly non-partisan address mainly to his biggest fans while flanked by two state-of-the-art yet obsolete war vehicles. Getting the tanks to the Lincoln Memorial entailed an enormous feat of engineering, as simply driving them through Washington would have caused extensive damage to streets and infrastructure. Instead, they had to be shipped first by rail, then on flatbed trucks on a carefully selected route to the Lincoln Memorial, where they were parked on pads designed to distribute the enormous weight and protect the surface underneath.

As journalist and Iraq War veteran Elliot Wood points out in a New York Times op-ed, tanks are relics of a form of warfare that no longer exists. These mobile bunkers were created to break the brutal, bloody stalemate that was trench warfare, and they accomplished that goal: World War II saw far less trench fighting than World War I, the war that introduced tanks. Their size and vulnerability to improvised explosive devices renders them useless for the urban conflict that has come to typify 21st century conflicts.

And Trump loves them. They're big, they're scary, and like firetrucks, they're cool. He'd love to get behind the controls of one of them, maybe fire the cannon. With one on each side of him as he stood behind bulletproof glass before a sea of MAGA hats and Trump 2020 banners (though it remains to be seen if the GOP will be required to reimburse the country for these illegal campaign intrusions on what is supposed to be a nonpartisan event), Trump looked every inch the autocrat he imagines himself to be. He got his photo op, his TV moment, and never stopped to think of the symbolic irony of the tableau.

When Trump talks about making America great again, he's referencing the America of his childhood, a nation still basking in its post-war glow, freshly anointed as the superpower of the West, persons of color back in the segregated schools and facilities where they belonged, women silently tolerating sexual assault by male co-workers and bosses, children seen but not heard, destruction of the environment in pursuit of profit taken for granted, and no one doubting that bigger was always better. This last was, by the way, a philosophy shared by the Soviet Union, and one of the key contributing factors to the Chernobyl disaster: Soviet reactors were ten times the size of their Western counterparts, meaning a malfunctioning reactor was far more difficult to bring under control and contain.

That is, again, a good metaphor for the disaster of the Trump regime. The man's ego is as enormous and fragile as his vision for America is obsolete. The fact that it's shared by so many red-hatted true Trumpists, clinging to a country and world that are irretrievably trapped in the past, only enhances the damage being done to the present by these antiquated ideas. Trump's tanks could not have rolled through Washington under their own power because they're just too hard to turn without destroying the city they're passing through. They were never meant to: they're tools of destruction, and the damage they induce as they tractor through a battlefield is entirely collateral. 

Which brings us, yet again, to the irony of Trump choosing tanks to decorate his speech. Trump's presidency is blundering through the world, intentionally damaging alliances that have served the nation well for more than a hundred years, reactively reversing policies and agreements designed to mitigate the climate change that may soon drown his beloved Mar-A-Lago golf resort, and inadvertently doing even more harm then he tends. The Army Corps of Engineers put plenty of time and effort into figuring out how to get those tanks to the Lincoln Memorial without knocking down buildings, bursting water mains, or tearing up asphalt. Trump's presidency is recklessly tearing up the nation and the world. He staggers from place to place, knocking things over, believing as only a spoiled rich kid can that the proprietors of whatever establishment he's trashed should feel privileged to have hosted his waste-laying presence.

Tanks, like battleships and B-52 bombers before them, are relics of a bygone era when big war machines punched huge holes in each other. The military of today has mostly moved on, opting for lighter, faster, more responsive technology that targets enemies more precisely. Younger generations of Americans are making similar choices, leaving behind the giant screen TVs of their parents in favor of handheld devices, questioning the need to even own a car, let alone a two-ton urban assault vehicle. Trump's following is mostly older and whiter than these millennial Americans, and like the tanks that had to be so carefully positioned beside him for his speech, their days of relevance are numbered.

Of course, there is still this to consider: as unwieldy a weapon as a tank is, it can still do plenty of damage just getting from one place to another. How much more destruction will the obsolete war machine that is Trump and his MAGA nation do to the world before they are finally decommissioned? And how many generations will it take to repair the damage?

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