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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: Tanks, flyovers and a big, fat, inadvertent laugh

Jeff Simon

"I hated it." So said CNN's former CIA terrorism expert Phil Mudd. "Can't we have one day without a politician?" he asked, echoing what is perhaps the major question of the entire Trump era.

You think that's harsh, you should have watched CNN and seen retired Rear Admiral John Kirby call Donald Trump's July 4 speech "a sepia toned and saccharine" version of American military history.

"I could have gotten this watching 'Schoolhouse Rock,'" Kirby said.

Nor was the admiral finished yet on the subject of the president's portrait of the history of his former profession. "We are a fairly young country and we have the attention span of poodles," he said.

I must confess, I had never had the invigorating pleasure of encountering the admiral before. In the TV news talking head business, his acid blast was an absolute winner when the world finally saw the president's much-deplored attempt to give American patriotism the kind of big celebration and parade he'd seen two years ago when watching the French whoop it up on Bastille Day.

Kirby summed it up as well as any military man could: "It's not what we are as a country."

You know: tanks and flyovers by jets, including Air Force One (which preceded President Trump's first taking the mic).

Just when I was deeply regretting our July 4 inability in TV land to watch Joey Chestnut stuff 71 hot dogs into his mouth in real time, the president gave all the self-appointed wags on the internet an incomparable gift.

In his "Schoolhouse Rock" dumbing down of American military and cultural history, he got a wee bit turned around reading the speech on the teleprompter and treated America to the hilariously fake news the Revolutionary Army defended our airports from the greedy, condescending parasitic Brits. Our Army, he said, "took over airports and did everything it had to do."

The Twitter party was riotous and almost immediate:

Jeff Greenfield -- traditionally one of the wisest and wittiest political and cultural commentators anywhere, pretended to regret that in the president's vest pocket history of the American Army:

There were, of course, those who defended the president for making such a wild and brazen gaffe. They understood he'd misspoken when he intended to say "seaports" as he read off the prompter.

Reading off a prompter is a special skill in this world and TV news people usually tell civilians it is never wise to presume it's easy to do unless they've tried it. I have, over the years, heard a few hair-raising stories about some of the most likable TV news personalities in local TV news who could just never quite get the hang of fluent "prompter work." I'm not sure I could master it, either.

Given the amount of advance grumbling about this particular event -- which was greeted with one group of attendees bringing with them a giant Trump balloon baby -- it certainly might have been wise to rehearse his speech until he had it absolutely cold and perfect.

Then again, one also has to point out, in all fairness, his speech was going to have to stop four times to allow for pre-arranged flyovers of military planes and accompaniments by the U. S. Army Band. That's a whole lot of live show business to be putting into the hands of a former rich brat from Queens.

In fact, I would dearly like someone well-connected to Washington journalism to dig a little and find out the names of all those who timed those flyovers as efficiently as they did. That, to put it mildly, is a special area of military showbiz and it seems to me a virtual guarantor, afterward, of a good stiff belt, to ward off a nervous breakdown. Talk about tough ways to make a living.

There was, of course, a serious point made by all the advance protests against Trump's adolescent willfulness. American military strength has been so huge and for so long that it's seldom been found necessary for empty public display. It's no wonder the French find it necessary and we don't. (Then again, they're celebrating history's greatest jailbreak; we're celebrating the eviction of overdressed snobs, bullies and tax collectors.)

On a more aesthetic note, the Lincoln Memorial is the most beautiful memorial in Washington, by far. You have to see it "live and in person" to understand that. (The Jefferson is a distant second.)

An Abrams tank weighs 70 tons and is, no doubt, a splendid war machine. At the age of 9, I'd have found it immeasurably cool. I'd still find it cool to inspect one close up.

But, as an adult I know what it is. It deals death and destruction. It wasn't created for distributing candy bars or playing unaccompanied Bach sonatas. It was built to insure freedom, not celebrate it. Its purpose is to triumph when things get ugly, not to glory in American beauty.

That's what the Lincoln Memorial is for.

It's a place for people, not homicidal war machines -- the 1963 March on Washington, for instance, where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Or for Marian Anderson, in 1939, to sing there at Eleanor Roosevelt's invitation when her color made it impossible to sing at Constitution Hall.

The Heavens' opinion of the event seems to have been indicated by the rainy weather. They'd joined ABC, CBS, and NBC, who all refrained from broadcasting it live.

At least, when it was all over, the president had given us a good, if unintentional, laugh inside all that "Schoolhouse Rock."

From what history has taught us over the years, we can all be certain that George Washington, Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln were definitely fellows who liked a good laugh, every now and  then.

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