White House aides have reportedly been struggling to draw crowds to event because of last minute arrangements
Donald Trump will preside over Fourth of July celebrations on Thursday with a speech about patriotism and a modest show of military might that critics say is politicizing an important holiday and wasting taxpayers’ money.
‘A narcissistic travesty’: critics savage Trump’s Independence Day jamboree
Trump, who has long admired displays of national pride and military strength put on by France, has dismissed concerns about the expense and autocratic overtones of the Washington DC event. The president will deliver remarks on the steps of the Lincoln memorial in the early evening, and celebrations will feature fireworks, a flyover by Air Force One and a display of tanks.
Trump has been accused of attempting to emulate a Soviet-style military parade, which are today associated with authoritarian regimes in China or North Korea.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of
Columbia, accused the president of “militarizing” the traditional celebrations of the
Fourth of July holiday and converting it into a “partisan political extravaganza”.
“Nothing could be more incongruous than seeing tanks on the [Washington National] Mall,” she told CNN.
Though thousands of tickets have been distributed to the military, White House aides have reportedly been struggling to draw crowds to Trump’s event because of the last minute arrangements. Congress is not in session, and Washington typically becomes quieter over the holiday, as residents escape the city’s summer heat.
“They started this too late and everyone has plans already,” Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor, told Politico, which reported that even top level White House officials were expected – but not confirmed – to attend.
“Everyone will be there in spirit, but in reality, people planned their July 4th activities weeks ago,” Eberhart said.
Hundreds of protesters are expected to gather on the mall in opposition. Codepink, the direct action antiwar protest group, was granted a permit to bring the Trump “baby blimp” to Washington’s National Mall while Trump gives his address, to protest against the “militarization of July 4” – but only if it is filled with ordinary air and not helium.
They will also bring a “16-ft Trump Robot sitting on a golden toilet” for a festival-style protest that “will also include stand-up comedy, a dance party, and an open mic for participants to bring attention to issues that are important to them”.
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Democrats have accused the president of staging a campaign rally on what is supposed to be a day of unity. Though the White House has said his remarks would not be political in nature, the president has a history of veering off script with sharp partisan attacks even at events that are not meant to be overtly political.
In a morning tweet, Trump called the event “SALUTE TO AMERICA” and claimed people “are coming from far and wide to join us today and tonight for what is turning out to be one of the biggest celebrations in the history”.
Crowd size is a sensitive subject for the president. A government photographer edited official pictures of Trump’s inauguration to make the crowds seem bigger following a personal intervention from the president, according to investigative documents from the inspector general of the US interior department.
Trump had been angered on the first morning of his presidency by images showing his audience was smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009. Trump’s White House had falsely claimed he had attracted the biggest ever inauguration audience.
The Pentagon said the administration has provided 5,000 tickets for Trump’s Independence Day event to the military. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign has also handed passes out to Republican allies and donors.
The US National Park Service diverted $2.5m in park entrance fees to help pay for the event, according to the Washington Post.
Asked earlier this week if he could give a speech that would represent all Americans, Trump said he thought he could, and then launched into an attack on Democrats’ policies on healthcare and taxes.
“Instead of addressing something like veteran homelessness, he’s spending it on boosting his ego with a parade that’s fundamentally about him and then getting tickets in the hands of wealthy donors for the Republican party. What a waste of money,” Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro said on CBS This Morning on Wednesday.
Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders also weighed in with criticism: “This is what authoritarians do: @realDonaldTrump is taking $2.5m away from our National Park Service to glorify himself with a spectacle of military tanks rolling through Washington,” he wrote in a tweet.
Trump downplayed the expense.
“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!” Andrews is the name of a nearby military base.
The Fourth of July holiday celebrates the anniversary of US founders’ declaring independence from Britain in 1776.