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Troops should not be used in presidential speeches ever – here’s why

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 1, 2022. (White House/Released)
September 22, 2022

With “civil war” trending on Twitter every other day, our leaders should at least try to not inflame tensions in a very divided nation. A good first step would be to stop using American troops as political props during presidential speeches – since now even they are giving off a ‘dictator-y’ vibe.

In all seriousness, no President — Democrat or Republican — should be allowed to use troops that are visible in any part of their presidential speeches. Not one glance, not a framed image — just stop.

Recently, President Joe Biden, flanked by U.S. Marines, delivered a controversial speech attacking his political opponents. He basically warned Americans that everyone who opposes him and his agenda and supports ‘the other guy’ is a threat to the very survival of our nation. If you vote for the other guys, the nation is doomed. November is the most important election of your lifetime, you see! Until the next one, of course.

And no, Republicans shouldn’t use troops as political propaganda either. It’s in vogue, but wrong, and the public should demand a stop to it.

Americans expect melodramatic partisan rhetoric from all U.S. presidents at this point, but using the military to reinforce said rhetoric elevates a president’s speech from all bark to looming bite. 

It was impossible to ignore the two Marines who stood on either side of Biden throughout his aggressive speech. The message was clear: the U.S. military is behind Biden. Are you? 

Using U.S. troops to strengthen a presidential speech bastardizes the military’s purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It blurs the line between dangerous enemies and political opponents, leaving millions of Americans on the political right wondering if they will become the next home raided by the feds simply because they want lower taxes, believe life begins at conception, or support the Second Amendment. Or millions of Americans on the left wondering if the feds will raid their homes over energy consumption, ‘anti-fascist’, or LGBTQ+ advocacy.

The Constitution and federal law dictate that the U.S. military be under civilian control. This may come as a shock to many in our nation’s capital, but political beliefs are not a factor when it comes to civilian control of the military. Linking active-duty troops to partisan politics erodes Americans’ faith in this impartial foundational tenet, and adds to the ever-growing divide between American civilians and so-called Washington, D.C. elites. 

Americans were already sounding the alarm over the politicization of the military; framing a divisive presidential speech with a pair of Marines doesn’t help. Eight former secretaries of defense and 6 former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff are warning that civilian-military relations are “strained” and urged a return to foundational principles for the sake of preserving those relations.

In 2020, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley joined then-President Donald Trump for a photo-op, during which Trump held up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. Milley subsequently apologized for taking part in the political act. 

“I should not have been there,” Milley said at the time. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military is involved in domestic politics.”

Milley was right. The military participating in presidential photo-ops and speeches does make it appear like it’s taking a side in domestic politics. We’re all looking forward to Milley condemning Biden’s use of the military for political purposes, too. Any time now. Still waiting…

Our leaders have a responsibility to make it clear that the U.S. military is impartial, so all Americans — even the 74 million so-called “extremists” — can begin to trust Washington, D.C. once again.

To all presidents: if you think fanning the flames of division is the best way to get out the vote — fine. Do your thing. Just leave the Marines in their barracks.