Donald Trump’s attempt to make July Fourth great again is turning into an eloquent metaphor for the excesses and polarization of his presidency.
From tanks on the National Mall to war plane flyovers to his own televised address and a longer than normal red, white and blue fireworks display means that even Independence Day will be politicized.
Instead of the “Salute to America” that he has proclaimed, Trump’s critics fear he’s really plotting a salute to himself.
His latest grandiose photo op appears to be a reflection of his own vanity, obsession with crowd sizes, craving for the spotlight, penchant for military hardware and his flirtations with authoritarianism.
But from the President’s perspective, he’s on to a winner. Cries of outrage from Democrats and the media at Trump’s hijacking of the July Fourth celebrations will not offend all Americans. For a lot of them, it may be a welcome display of the country’s strength.
And by serving as the arbiter of patriotism, as he did during the controversy over kneeling NFL players and as a strong commander-in-chief, Trump is also laying a political trap.
On national TV, he can pose once again as the patriotic and defiant scourge of elites who sneer at the values of heartland Americans. The strategy he used to win election in 2016 and on which he is banking to claim a second term.
“We’re going to have a great Fourth of July in Washington DC,” Trump said, laying out his plans with almost boyish enthusiasm on Monday. “It will be like no other, and it is special, and I hope a lot of people come.”
But as Trump has made his presidency an exercise in self-flattery and has rarely striven for national unity, the omens are not looking great for a heartwarming non-partisan evening.
This is the President who gave a raging political speech at a Scout jamboree and turned the CIA’s memorial wall into the backdrop for a partisan rally the day after he was sworn in.
As well as indulging his narcissism, the July Fourth event is highlighting his typical profligacy with public money, questionable ethics, a lack of transparency and a measure of chaos in the last minute organization.
The actual cost of all the extra security — a flight time for the aircraft used as Air Force One that is expected to buzz the crowd — has not yet been released by the White House.
“The American people deserve to know how much of their money the president is spending to turn their July 4th celebration into a de facto campaign rally,” three Democratic lawmakers said in a letter to the Interior Department.
In the post-9/11 era, presidents have generally entertained service members and their families at private events at the White House.
But Republican operatives are also handing out tickets to VIPs and donors as well as general admission entry for Trump’s speech in the rarified historic air near the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. orated his “dream.” Normally, the spot where Trump’s stage stands is one of the best spots to watch the July Fourth fireworks.