Watching Donald Trump’s takeover of a beloved summer holiday - the 4th of July - may have delighted some, but the events taking place at the feet of President Lincoln on the Washington Mall actually filled me with dread.

It was not just the bulky army tanks on parade, nor was it the aircraft fly-overs. All that demonstrated nothing but massively expensive metal.

Some say the exhibition was meant to warn international despots of America’s great military power.  But the most frightening aspect of the production, to me, was Trump’s belabored, middle-school recap of America’s history of war and its sacrifice of life.

For me, this hour of speech and spectacle gave a Machiavellian flavor to the holiday.

I remembered an adage in Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th-century political treatise, The Prince. “When the Prince is in trouble,” wrote the author, “he should start a war.” Is war on Trump’s agenda this year? By showcasing everything military belonging to his authoritarian ego, and by having hawks such as Bolton and Stephen Miller in Trump’s camp, this July 4 occasion seems designed to prepare us for war.  

Trump admitted on July 5 that he expects military recruitment to step up because of the extravaganza the day before. His July 4th pep rally was designed, apparently, to evoke a lust in young folks for acting out heroism, for driving or flying big machines, and for enlisting in forces which he himself evaded five times. Maybe Trump thinks war would empower his image, not to mention his re-election. Machiavelli argued the opposite in “The Prince”  when he wrote, “(T)he way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is, for what should be, pursues his downfall rather than his preservation….”

Of course, Trump would deny an accusation that he wants or is obsessed with the idea of war. Denial, alternative facts and blatant lying, we have learned, are talents Trump has perfected. He must have read (or his aides have summarized for him), Machiavelli’s Chapter 18, which insists that a would-be ruler must become a “great liar and deceiver.”

Many evil leaders, from Russia’s Stalin to mobster John Gotti, have studied “The Prince.” Others who read it include Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and they succeeded because they read Machiavelli as satire.

The author draws a picture of downfall-by-despotism, emphasizing how a monarch’s great need for love and loyalty will result only in disaster - the ruler will be ruled by his suspicion and fear of allies and foes.

Machiavelli argues that a respected and beloved ruler in a free republic earns love through honesty, equality, generosity and liberty.

No doubt, our fight for freedom in the 1770s was warranted. But if our “prince” takes us into war now, whether for show or desperation, we need only remember how we were warned on the 4th of July.


North Wilkesboro, N.C.

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