Trump skips politics and urges national unity in rain-soaked July Fourth speech

President salutes the armed forces as tanks and jets take part in controversial parade

David Maclean
in Washington DC
Friday 05 July 2019 03:32 BST
Trump fans celebrate the fourth of July by fighting with homeless man

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Stealth bombers, fighter jets and military helicopters shut down the airspace over Washington DC for more than two hours in a so-called ‘Salute to America’ - as Donald Trump piggybacked on the traditional July 4 celebrations with his Bastille Day-inspired patriotic showcase.

The president stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff by his side - an uncomfortably close pairing of politics and military might which led some to claim he had hjiacked Independence Day for his own political ends.

The speech itself was delivered almost entirely from script, with none of his usual asides, and was both a history lesson of the republic and a tour de force of American achievement given from behind raindrop-streaked bulletproof glass.

"As long as we stay true to our course, 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,” he said to chants of ‘USA’. It was a rare unifying message to a fractured nation, during an event which many had feared would be a MAGA-style political rally.

The closest he got to overtly boasting of his own achievements in office was insisting that America “is at its strongest now”.

A series of tributes to each branch of the military gave way to military music and a flyover from the corresponding aircrafts - including B-2 stealth bombers, F-35 and F-18 fighter jets, V-22 Ospreys and Army and Coast Guard helicopters.

A doctor, relief work volunteer, and a nun were among those called upon by the commander in chief as he listed achievements of notable Americans.

Behind him on the steps stood cheering fans, in front were hundreds of invited guests, the media, and dense crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool beyond.

On either side of him stood a medium-sized tank, a compromise on the display of military might he reportedly wanted after watching France's Bastille Day ceremonies in 2017.

A heavy rainstorm just three hours before the speech had thrown the schedule into doubt, with early bird guests left soaked because the Secret Service had confiscated their umbrellas.

But other than a woman who collapsed in the crowd and was stretchered away, onlookers were fired up.

Outside of the invited audience, however, some Americans felt less at-one with their neighbours than ever, on what has traditionally been a day of national unity.

Daniela Garay, 19, said her Mexican parents encouraged her to travel here from Chicago to see her first Independence Day parade - but the inclusion of a heavy military presence reminded her of a dictatorship.

“It’s reminiscent of a Kim Jong-Un rally,” the political science student said, looking down at her homemade ‘Dump Trump’ sign and saying: “We need more people willing to stand up for what’s right.”

(Getty (Getty)

Mark Delfin, 48, from California, wore a Hillary Clinton t-shirt and said he’d been repeatedly confronted with chants of “lock her up” from people heading towards the event.

“You just have to look at the number of Maga hats in the city to see that this is being viewed by many as a political rally for some people.”

Rosa Cox, 41, a graphic designer from Virginia, said: “Donald Trump is the very definition of a tyrant. Inserting himself into Independence Day with all the trappings of the military is very much in character for him.”

Another visitor, retired California social worker Lisa Caviar, 72, groused at the cost and said the parks services could “ill afford” the bill.

Others, however, saw the spectacle as less threatening.

(AP (AP)

Dion Cini, 50, from New York, said military pride as a simple form of patriotism that all Americans should be comfortable endorsing.

“But because it’s been decades since we’ve had World Wars, and we haven’t suffered deeply here at home recently, some people have lost sight of our military’s importance.”

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Military contractor Chris Hekimian, 58, was also unworried: “I’m more scared of Antifa thugs with acid than I am of the president making a speech before the fireworks,” motioning to his backpack and saying: “I brought baking soda just in case I’m attacked.”

(AFP/Getty Images
(AFP/Getty Images (AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Trump had hoped to see tanks rolling through the grand streets of the capital, but was thwarted by engineers’ fears that they’d tear up the streets and damage bridges - a small number of tanks were placed around the city after being brought in via train at a reported cost of $750,000.

The overall cost of the event was likely to be substantial; keeping an F-22 fighter in the air costs $65,000 an hour, for a B-2 bomber the cost rises to $122,000.

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