At this point, approximately 700 months into the 2016 election campaign, we’ve heard stock answers from every candidate on a wide range of issues: Think Chris Christie’s constant, unprovoked reminders that he was appointed U.S. attorney the day before 9/11, or Ted Cruz’s daily promise that he will “repeal every word of Obamacare,” as though his competitors would dare to leave in the prepositions and conjunctions.
But no stock answer has been so interminably puzzling, so endlessly rewarding, or so blithely stupid as a line Donald Trump has returned to over and over when asked to prove that he will be a good U.S. president for Israel.
The line: "I was the Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade down Fifth Avenue."
It came up again at Thursday night’s Republican debate, when Ted Cruz challenged Trump on his Israel stance.
“I am pro-Israel,” Trump assured the audience. And then, as night follows the day: “I was the Grand Marshal, not so long ago, of the Israeli Day Parade down Fifth Avenue.”
“I was the Grand Marshal down Fifth Avenue a number of years ago for the Israeli Day Parade,” Trump said at a debate in February. He brought up his role as Grand Marshal in the parade to a CNN interviewer in December, and to a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer in January. If you ask Donald Trump why he will be a great American president for Israel, he will, like your great uncle who tells the same exaggerated story about how drunk he got at his wedding at every family gathering, undoubtedly bring up the time he was named Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade. This is his defining Israeli validation.
Here is my followup question to Trump's assertion that he was Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in 2004: What???
Here's just one more followup: Huh?????
The “Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade” line lacks any meaning whatsoever. It should be convincing to absolutely no one, and yet there it is, trotted out so often, and with such confidence, to questions about Israel, as though Donald Trump had won the endorsement of Golda Meir’s estate.
What makes the line so ridiculous? Part of it is the sentence, and the sentiment, itself. “I was the Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade several years ago” is, out of context, a hilarious thing to say. What a weird, semi-prestigious title to brag about! It sounds like a line of dialogue spoken by a depressed Alec Baldwin character in a Wes Anderson film. The line should be soundtracked by a Moldy Peaches song.
“I was the Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade” is not a policy bona fide; it is a character quirk. It's a detail in a 1960s Philip Roth novella. It exists in the same comedy universe as Will Ferrell attempting to exert dominance over his family’s dinner table conversation by shouting “I DRIVE A DODGE STRATUS” over and over.
Being the Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade more than a decade ago is an answer you give in an interview for a job you aren’t qualified for. “What leadership experience do you have?” the interviewer asks. You are sweating profusely, as you have no leadership experience, and after several seconds pause, you answer: “Well, I was president of the chess team in middle school. I think that leadership experience would translate well here when I become CEO of JPMorgan.”
“We weren’t really looking for … ”
“What leadership experience do I have?” You soldier on. “Well, my siblings and I auditioned for Family Feud several years ago and everyone agreed that, had we taped a show, I would have been the captain of our team. It was a tremendous honor.”
Of course, having led a middle school chess team does represent leadership experience, whereas marching in a parade with the word “Israel” in it more than a decade ago represents nothing. Citing your involvement in a parade as a foreign policy credential is a step above claiming that you have many Israeli friends. Could Donald Trump negotiate a better trade deal with China? He once successfully argued for a 10% discount at a Sichuan restaurant in 1975, so you tell me.
Also, as an aside: Isn’t it fun to envision Donald Trump—whose persistent dourness, joylessness, and anger suggests the general opposite mood you typically find at a parade—as the Grand Marshal of anything?
Can’t you just imagine Trump, schvitzing in the summer heat in one of his dark suits, jubilant Israeli music blasting at his back, lips pursed, eyes squinting, wondering how much longer he’ll have to be at this stupid parade before he can go back to his air-conditioned apartment to drink a beautiful lemonade and read Golf Magazine?
Anyway, having absolutely nothing relevant to say about an issue isn’t necessarily a problem for a campaign that has been propelled by very little substance, and it is perfectly Trumpian that, when challenged on something, he points to a meaningless honorific he once received as counter-evidence. It is also entirely consistent that the parade for which Donald Trump was Grand Marshal was called the Salute to Israel Parade, and not the Israeli Day Parade.
Whether a Donald Trump presidency would actually serve Israel well, I will leave to the experts. In the meantime, I eagerly anticipate the next question Donald Trump gets about Israel. Something tells me we'll be hearing about a little parade that takes place every year in New York City. It progresses down Fifth Avenue. Trump was once the Grand Marshal for it.