BY CAROLINE S. ENGELMAYER
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
WASHINGTON – Fourth of July celebrations in Washington usually bring Democrats and Republicans together to mark the national holiday while taking a break from partisan politics.
Not this year.
With tanks on the streets of the nation’s capital, military jet flyovers and a presidential address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, President Donald Trump injected his trademark over-the-top style — as well as his divisive personality — into the traditional fireworks display at the National Mall.
While most presidents have steered clear of Fourth of July festivities to avoid politicizing the day, Trump was personally involved in the details of the planning — much to the frustration of local officials and residents in the predominantly liberal city.
STUCK TO TELEPROMPTER
Ever since Trump’s 2017 visit to watch France’s Bastille Day celebration, he has pressed for a similar event at home.
He initially tried to organize a military parade on Veterans Day, but plans fell apart amid opposition from the local government and estimates that the costs would run into the tens of millions of dollars. Even some Pentagon officials bristled at such an overt public display of American military power.
But many of those same ideas were part of Thursday’s celebration, including military tributes and flyovers. And Trump made himself the main event.
“We are one people, chasing one dream, and one magnificent destiny,” Trump told the crowd. “We all share the same heroes, the same home, the same heart, and we are all made by the same Almighty God.”
Despite fears Trump would use the opportunity to push his policies or criticize Democrats, the president stuck to a teleprompter and refrained from the combative language he prefers at campaign speeches and on Twitter.
Even so, unlike previous years when thousands of D.C. residents and tourists braved the typically hot, muggy weather to picnic on the Mall and watch the annual fireworks show, this year’s event was decidedly more political.
Trump’s participation drew numerous protests from groups opposing his administration’s policies and accusing him of trying to turn a national holiday into a campaign rally focused on himself.
“This should be the day for independence, not for his reelection campaign,” said Ann Wright, 73, from Honolulu. A retired Army colonel and diplomat, she said Trump is “hijacking the Fourth of July for his own political purposes.”
Anti-Trump protesters carried a variety of signs — some condemning the administration’s immigration policy — and the feminist antiwar activist group Code Pink floated a giant, inflated balloon depicting the president as a baby with a cellphone. The DC Labor Chorus — which performs songs associated with resistance and the labor movement — sang for demonstrators. Their first song: “Donald, no good, impeach him.”
When an evening thunderstorm drenched the mall, demonstrators huddled under tents singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Near a VIP section close to the Lincoln Memorial, Trump supporters — some wearing Make America Great Again hats — arrived early in the day to get good spots. There were a few shouting matches between pro-Trump attendees and anti-Trump protesters. But, generally, the two sides kept their distance.
HIGH PRICE TAG
Vincent Mallardi, 20, a pro-Trump college student from Fredericksburg, Va., said he came because “the freedom of America is so imperative and every American should be celebrating the Fourth of July.” He said he didn’t think it was “a partisan event.”
The administration has not released a taxpayer price tag for the Fourth of July celebration. But based on the usual expense of mobilizing such equipment and personnel, and flying the kind of military aircraft to be displayed, the costs could easily run into the millions of dollars.
Local officials in Washington have long resisted Trump’s efforts for a military parade, citing among other things the potential damage to city streets from rumbling tanks.
“We have said it before, and we’ll say it again: Tanks, but no tanks,” the D.C. City Council tweeted Monday.
Councilman David Grosso said in a statement that he is “dismayed and alarmed” about Trump’s celebration.
“This holiday has always been for the people to celebrate our founding, including the immigrants — both forced and voluntary — who make up our country along with the indigenous peoples who preceded us,” he said. “The military should not be the focus of this day, and it’s absolutely inappropriate to have tanks riding down our local streets to support a political rally.”
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., a nonvoting House member who represents the district, called Trump’s event a logistical “nightmare.”
She noted that while district authorities began preparing for the standard Fourth of July celebration nearly a year ago, law enforcement and security officials have had comparatively little time to get ready for Trump’s speech.
She added that the Trump administration has still not repaid the city for the nearly $7 million it spent to help fund his inauguration in January 2017.
That puts the district “between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “It’s very reluctant to spend its own funds, but it obviously doesn’t want to have less than full security at this event.”
A spokesperson for the National Park Service did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
HOTEL COSTS UP
Other critics suggested that Trump stood to benefit financially from the scaled-up celebration, which he has personally touted in recent days.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington noted that prices for Trump’s Washington hotel have “skyrocketed” over the holiday weekend.
“It’s likely that his supporters and political allies plan to descend on his hotel around the holiday, which would come as no surprise, given that no modern president has so blatantly profited from his political position before, or centered the Fourth of July celebration so squarely around himself,” CREW digital communications associate Linnaea Honl-Stuenkel wrote on the group’s website.
TICKETS TO DONORS
Democrats also complained that they were being shut out of some of the festivities. Trump offered tickets in a VIP area to prominent Republican Party donors.
Trump also gave 5,000 tickets to the Defense Department, spokesman Tom Crosson said in a statement Wednesday.
In addition to Trump’s speech, this year’s National Independence Day Parade marched down Constitution Avenue, next to the National Mall, for 10 blocks.
The city’s usual Fourth of July fireworks celebration — a display that typically takes place at the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting Pool — was moved to West Potomac Park, behind the Lincoln Memorial.