Washington: As Donald Trump supporters and opponents confronted each other during a hot and rainy Fourth of July, Trump himself stressed holiday themes and paid tribute to the military during a speech that avoided politics – for the most part.
“Our nation is stronger today than it ever was before,” Trump said at one point in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial, echoing a claim he has made often on the campaign trail.
“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,” Trump said during his “Salute to America” event.
Earlier in the day, Trump supporters and protesters gathered in Washington from Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to the expanse of National Mall. No major violence was reported, though at least one scuffle broke out at a flag burning in front of the White House.
While telling the story of George Washington and other revolutionaries who defeated the British more than two centuries ago, Trump also singled out each branch of the modern U.S. military, including his proposed “Space Force.”
He also discussed U.S. accomplishments, from Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone to the Wright Brothers and the airplane. He introduced a number of invited guests, from an engineer on the first moon landing in 1969 to gold star families who lost loved ones in battle.
The setting reflected the program’s military theme, as tanks were deployed on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. Air Force One flew overhead as the president and first lady Melania Trump ascended the makeshift stage in front of the memorial.
At different points, Trump paused in his speech to allow flyovers of various pieces of equipment, from Coast Guard choppers to a B-2 stealth bomber.
The weather may have held down the crowd, but Trump supporters packed the area in front of the stage, and on either side of the Reflecting Pool that stretches away from the Lincoln Memorial.
“That same American Spirit that emboldened our founders has kept us strong throughout our history,” Trump said. “To this day, that spirit runs through the veins of every American patriot. It lives on in each and every one of you.”
On the National Mall earlier Thursday, the liberal activist organization Code Pink inflated a Baby Trump blimp, depicting an orange-hued Trump in a diaper clutching a Twitter-ready cell phone in his right hand. It has become a fixture at major protests including recently in London and at the U.S.-Mexico border. The balloon was later deflated because of wind on the Mall.
Trump said he was inspired to hold the Fourth of July extravaganza by a Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris two years. He has long said he wanted a similar event in Washington to honor the U.S. military, complete with flyovers and rolling military hardware.
But critics have accused him of injecting politics in a traditionally nonpartisan holiday celebration with his “Salute to America” event.
A large area was fenced off around the Lincoln Memorial, preventing people without invitations from getting to the monument.
It was the first time a presidential administration has sponsored a Fourth of July event since the Richard Nixon administration backed an “Honor America Day” in 1970. Nixon was out of town, but did deliver a speech by video. But protesters stormed the Nixon event, also at the Lincoln Memorial, nearly shutting it down.
On Thursday in front of the White House, protesters, some wearing T-shirts that said “Revolution – Nothing Less!” lit up an American flag on Pennsylvania Avenue. Others, some wearing Trump gear, rushed the demonstrators who surrounded the flag, leading to fisticuffs and throw-downs that had to be broken up by police.
Activists also brought a 16-foot-tall “Dumping Trump” robot featuring the president sitting on a golden toilet wearing a MAGA-style hat saying “Make America Great Again: Impeach Me.”
Trump supporters donned bright red hats emblazoned by the Trump slogan, Make America Great Again.
At one point, they chanted “I love America, I Love America” as protesters cheered a robot-like Trump sculpture sitting on a toilet.
Trump said his viewing of a Bastille Day parade two years inspired his desire to host a military-themed event in Washington; critics said the event seemed more about promoting himself.
Critics noted that tickets to Trump’s events went to supporters and Republican Party members, while the population at large was shut out.
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, a veteran, said the planning of the Trump event seemed designed to “boost his own ego.”
“I think it makes America look smaller,” he said during a campaign stop in Iowa. “We’ve always been the type of country that respects our military enough to not use them as props.”
Image: US President Donald Trump speaks during the “Salute to America” Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 4, 2019.