WASHINGTON - In a flashy Independence Day address that departed from tradition but stayed above politics, President Donald Trump paid tribute to the United States military and celebrated the country’s 243-year-long history while urging Americans to fight for a better future.
Mr Trump, who on Thursday (July 4) became the first president in almost 70 years to make a Fourth of July address at the monument-studded National Mall of Washington DC, recounted the achievements of military heroes and historical figures to the thousands gathered.
“We will always be the people who defeated a tyrant, crossed a continent, harnessed science, took to the skies and soared into the heavens,” he said in a hour-long speech bookended by ferocious rain, a flyover, and fireworks.
All five branches of the military had their moment in the sun, as Mr Trump paused during each segment for the military band to play the official songs of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy, and for fighter jets to fly overhead.
“Together, we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told - the story of America,” said Mr Trump from behind rain-streaked bulletproof glass on the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 56 years ago.
“As long as we stay true to our cause, as long as we remember our great history, and as long as we never stop fighting for a better future, then there will be nothing that America cannot do,” he added.
It is not tradition for American presidents to address crowds at the National Mall on the Fourth of July, and Thursday’s unorthodox parade - inspired by France’s Bastille Day which Mr Trump attended in 2017 - drew brickbats from Democrats who accused him of putting himself at the centre of a national holiday.
Among Mr Trump’s critics was former vice-president and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden, who wrote on Twitter before the event that it was “designed more to stroke his ego than celebrate American ideals”.
Mr Trump was also criticised for deploying military hardware, including tanks and armoured vehicles displayed at the National Mall, in a civilian celebration of unity. The White House has not yet released the bill for the event, but media reports estimated it to cost millions of dollars.
Others feared that a celebration of the national holiday would devolve into the kind of partisan rally speech the pugilistic Mr Trump is known for giving at his campaign rallies. But the President stayed on script in a lofty speech devoid of the usual jabs at his political opponents or praise of his political allies, and aired none of his regular grievances against the media.
The same could not always be said for the crowd, decked in the red, white and blue of the American flag and the occasional red MAGA cap harking back to Mr Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan in 2016.
But anti-Trump protesters were also there, setting up an inflatable balloon of a diaper-wearing baby Trump and handing out mini-balloons, though the six-meter-high blimp had to stay grounded due to the conditions of its permit.
Earlier in the day, leftist protesters burned an American flag in front of the White House and clashed with Trump supporters, including members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with ties to white nationalism. Two individuals were arrested, said the Secret Service in a statement.