WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the country will celebrate 243 years of independence — but this year’s festivities are already setting off a different kind of fireworks.
That’s because of President Donald Trump’s plan to add more bells and whistles to Washington’s usual celebration: music, military demonstrations and — notably — a speech he’ll make, likely from the Lincoln Memorial, according to a White House official. The Washington Post reports there may even be an Air Force One flyover.
It’s right up the president’s alley, and he’s encouraging attendees to come with flags in hand, predicting last week in Orlando there will “hundreds of thousands” of people on hand.
Trump was inspired by what he called one of the greatest parades he’s ever seen: the march marking Bastille Day in France in 2017. That’s when, as a guest of President Emmanuel Macron, Trump marveled at the display of military might.
“I think we’re going to have to start looking at that ourselves,” Trump said, side-by-side with Macron months later. “We’re actually thinking about 4th of July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength.”
But the president’s critics accuse him of trying to hijack what is typically a nonpartisan celebration.
Other commanders-in-chief have participated in July 4th festivities, of course, but only one has taken a truly active role: Harry Truman delivered a speech about the Korean War in 1951.
Democrats are concerned that the president will use his platform — and taxpayer money — to politicize the day. House leaders, including Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, worry that the events will give an “appearance of a televised, partisan campaign rally on the Mall at public expense,” as they put it in a letter to the administration.
“Frankly, that’s not what July 4th is about,” Hoyer said in an interview with NBC News.
“It’s not about politics in the partisan sense — it’s about democracy, it’s about freedom, it’s about individual liberties, it’s about pursuit of happiness,” he added. “Not about politics, not about polarization, not about focusing on differences. It’s about one nation under god indivisible. And it’s sad that the president’s turning it into — in my opinion and the opinion of many — a political rally.”
Others have raised concerns about the potential for anti-Trump protests. A spokesperson for the National Parks Service, which oversees the National Mall, said the area is open to all to exercise their First Amendment rights, but “we will ensure that the Independence Day events and any demonstrations that occur are conducted in a manner safe to the participants and our visitors.”
Tourists visiting the Mall ahead of the busy 4th of July holiday had mixed views of the president’s plans.
“Being proud of our country, there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Chris Metacroft, who said he supports Trump.
And Jim Stefaniak has no problem with the proposed changes to the event, saying, “I think we’ve been missing the boat, frankly, to show off our military — because we should be proud of them and we should be proud of what they do for us.”
Others aren’t so jazzed. Beth Hopper thinks it would be an interesting event to attend with her kids, but added, “I would certainly prefer that (Trump) wasn’t speaking at the event. I would prefer it be not politicized at all.”
Andrea Melanger agrees. “I think he just likes to feel celebrated,” she said. “And so, you know, it’s probably just feeding more of his ego. I don’t think we need to spend money on that.”