US President Donald Trump has praised the military in his Independence Day speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC amid a display of military strength.
“We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flag – the brave men and women of the United States military!” he said on Thursday.
Trump became the first US president in more than 70 years to deliver an Independence Day address as hundreds of people – both his supporters and opponents – gathered to celebrate the country’s declaration of independence from Britain on July 4, 1776.
Inspired by the exhibition of French military strength he witnessed while attending Bastille Day in Paris in 2017, the Republican president turned the event into a celebration of the US military.
The Salute To America event boasted flyover from army jets and helicopters, as well as a collection of armoured vehicles that included Abrams tanks and Bradley armoured vehicles.
Trump’s speech to the nation centred on the US’s military strength, lavishing extensive praise on each branch of the military, touting the armed forces and their history as the example of strength and unity to which ordinary citizens should aspire to.
“There will be nothing that America cannot do” as long as Americans remain true to their history and “never stop fighting for a better future,” said Trump. He also promised to plant the US flag on Mars.
Politicisation of holiday
Critics of the president, including members of the press and the opposition Democratic party and even former military leaders, expressed concern that Trump was not only politicising a national holiday, but also the military in the process.
Despite reports of sightings of military vehicles around the US capital in the days preceding the event, the military hardware remained hidden from the general public for most of the day, tucked far behind chain link fences surrounding the Lincoln Memorial.
Much more visible were the displays of partisan affiliation among Trump supporters, large numbers of whom attended the parade and subsequent events sporting shirts, flags, and hats emblazoned with pro-Trump slogans.
Lore Emelio, a North Carolina resident who attended Thursday’s event with her six-year-old son, described the atmosphere as feeling “more politicised” and “resentful” than July 4 celebrations she was accustomed to.
Emelio also wanted to take her son to the Lincoln Memorial, “the one thing he wanted to see most”, only to find it cordoned off ahead of Trump’s speech.
Carmen Arrezola from Virginia also expressed dissatisfaction with this year’s proceedings, saying the presence of military vehicles gave her the impression of “living in a military order”.
Ashton Whitty, a Trump supporter from Berkeley, California, couldn’t see anything wrong with the military hardware on display and disagreed that Trump had politicised this year’s celebrations.
“It’s not a Nazi thing,” she said, standing near the chain-link fence separating the Lincoln Memorial from the general public. “[Americans] live in the greatest country in the world. I think all presidents should address the American people like this.”
‘This is not North Korea’
Jason Frank, a Las Vegas resident who had been conversing with Whitty, agreed. Having registered to vote for the first time at the age of 41 with the express purpose of re-electing Trump, Frank described this year’s Independence Day celebration as “a beautiful thing”. “Without [Independence Day] we don’t have anything. If you know the history, you honour it for what it is.”
Less than a mile away and still on the National Mall, the anti-imperialist group CodePink held a small protest anchored by a blimp depicting Trump as an enormous baby and a five-metre statue of Trump sitting on a golden toilet.
“We’re glad we have a little liberated space here to say this is not what our holiday should be about,” said CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin.
“We’re opposed to a lot of the policies that Trump has been instrumental in implementing like caging children on the border, like threatening to go to war with Iran, whipping up Islamophobia and racist sentiments.”
Nearby, a man carrying a yellow flag with the words: “Don’t Tread on Me” written across it sparred loudly with a woman who had come to join the CodePink protest.
While most of the discussions taking place between Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters appeared relatively cordial, some occasionally devolved into abrasive exchanges.
In spite of Benjamin saying she didn’t think clashes were likely, CodePink had asked park police to intervene when a Trump supporter threatened to attack the baby blimp.
Felicia, who had come all the way from New Jersey to participate in the protest, rued the politicisation of the event.
“This is not Red Square, this is not North Korea. Why does he [Trump] need to turn traditional family celebration into a show of military might?” she asked.