In a made-for-television Independence Day production starring America’s military weaponry, President Trump on Thursday used the Lincoln Memorial as the backdrop for a tribute to the country’s armed forces and a call for unity that has been largely absent during his divisive presidency.
Flanked by Bradley armoured vehicles and M1A2 tanks in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, Trump paid homage to the five branches of the military as a chorus sang each service hymn and he cued the arrival of fighter jets, helicopters and other military aircraft as they roared overhead.
Speaking to a rain-soaked audience filled with troops decked out in “Make America Great Again” and “Trump 2020” paraphernalia, the President finally presided over the grand military display that he has wanted since witnessing the Bastille Day parade in Paris two years ago.
In a 45-minute speech delivered behind rain-streaked bulletproof glass, the President singled out a long list of Americans for their contributions to science, medicine, politics and the arts, and spun a history that praised everything from the civil rights movement to space exploration and praised everyone from the suffragists to Harriet Tubman to Chuck Yeager.
But he spent most of his time recounting the progression of the armed forces, ending his remarks as the Battle Hymn of the Republic blared through huge speakers and the Blue Angels soared overhead.
“As long as we stay true to our cause — as long as we remember our great history — as long as we never, ever stop fighting for a better future, then there will be nothing that America cannot do,” Trump declared to chants of “USA, USA” “God bless you, God bless the military, and God bless America. Happy Fourth of July”.
Even before he spoke, the President’s appearance on the National Mall drew fierce criticism from Democrats and some members of the military, who accused the President of using the military troops and equipment for his own political purposes.
“Tanks aren’t props. They are weapons of war,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat and West Point graduate who served in the 82nd Airborne Division. Senator Kamala Harris of California, a Democratic candidate for President, said of Trump: “I don’t think he understands, this is America’s birthday, not his birthday.”
But two weeks after formally announcing his re-election bid in Orlando, Florida, with a dark message of grievance and pointed attacks on his enemies, the President on Thursday offered a different, more optimistic tone.
He imposed himself on Washington’s usually non-political Fourth of July celebration in what he called a “Salute to America” that avoided any of his usual attacks on the news media, Democrats or his intelligence agencies but placed him at the centre.
“We all share a truly extraordinary heritage. Together, we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told — the story of America,” he told a large crowd of people.
Airports? In the 1700s? A historical flub landed in Trump’s “Salute to America” speech on Thursday. While praising the victories of the Continental Army over the British during the 1775-1783 Revolutionary War, Trump mentioned how it “took over the airports”.
There were, of course, no airports in the 1770s, not to mention airplanes. Trump read his speech from a teleprompter behind a lectern streaked with rain and may explain the clumsy reference.