I can see he's not in your good books, said the messenger. ...
I have never heard so much complaining about the President of the United States saluting military personnel until Presidents Obama and Trump came into office. My conclusion is that it must have something to do with people's dislike of them or they wouldn't do so much nitpicking over something so petty.
The argument goes that the president, even though he is the Commander in Chief, is a civilian and therefore the salute is improper.
The military's salute is a privileged gesture of respect among military members. The salute is not only prescribed by regulation, but is also recognition of each other's commitment, abilities, and professionalism.
Even though the junior renders a salute to the senior, it is NOT is a gesture of servility. The fact that the junior renders the salute first is a point of etiquette and under military regulations the senior is required to return the salute.
When it comes to saluting the flag, all persons present in uniform (military, police, fire, etc.) should render the military salute. Members of the armed forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their head dress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. While this is part of the US Code, it has no force of law...you can't be prosecuted for failure to comply. Thankfully! If you could the majority of spectators at sporting events would get arrested!
When it comes to presidents saluting military personnel, there’s no regulation that stipulates presidents must salute the troops. Rachel Maddow’s 2012 book Drift stated that saluting was started by President Ronald Reagan. She wrote that while soldiers were supposed to salute the president, the president was not supposed to return the salute and no modern president had saluted military personnel. Not quite, but almost, correct.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan was the first who made the presidential salute a common practice, especially when exiting or boarding Air Force One or Marine One. But President Eisenhower did return salutes of military members while he served as president when he was in civilian clothes.
When President Reagan rendered his salute, his military aide advised him that it went against military protocol for presidents to return salutes. Reagan took up the issue with Gen. Robert Barrow, Commandant of the Marine Corps. Gen. Barrow told Reagan that as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he was entitled to offer a salute, or any sign of respect he wished , to anyone he wished. Every president since then has followed that practice, even those with no military experience.
Some argue that it's against protocol, others say it represents an increasing militarization of the civilian presidency. Blah, blah, blah.
My dictionary says a salute is a gesture of respect, homage, or polite recognition or acknowledgment, especially one made to or by a person when arriving or departing. So, if a president wants to render a gesture of respect to military personnel, what's wrong with that?