Two Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s flank
Two Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s flank the stage being prepared in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, ahead of Fourth of July festivities. Image Credit: AP

Washington, DC: US President Donald Trump presided over July Fourth Independence Day celebrations on Thursday with a speech about patriotism and a show of military might that critics say politicised an important holiday and wasted taxpayer money.

Trump, a Republican who admired flashy displays of national pride and military strength put on by France, dismissed concerns about the expense and militaristic overtones of the Washington event, which took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial and featured fireworks, a flyover by Air Force One and a display of tanks.

Washington, DC, always puts on a show for the Fourth of July, but for the first time this year, Trump personally planned and threw together his own Independence Day event at the Lincoln Memorial. Here’s how this Fourth of July was so different:

An Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) is parked
An Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) is parked on a sidewalk in Washington, DC, on Thursday. Image Credit: AFP

Trump adds Lincoln Memorial event

Although the Lincoln Memorial is usually utilised for fireworks watching, this year it featured a speech by Trump. The area in front of the memorial was cordoned off for a VIP area and tickets were distributed to the Republican Party and political donors, among others.

White House officials said Trump’s speech was not intended to be political but rather an homage to the military and to the United States. Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said: “The president loves America and wants to help all Americans celebrate our nation’s independence with a salute to America on the National Mall.”

An address after 70 years

It’s been nearly seven decades since a president spoke there on Independence Day. The US was at war in Korea when Harry Truman addressed a large gathering on the Washington Monument grounds, marking the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Trump sounded a defensive note Wednesday, tweeting that cost “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 said, referring to Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews, home for some of the planes that flew over the Mall on Thursday. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats.”

People watch the Independence Day parade
People watch the Independence Day parade in Washington, DC, on July 4, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Tanks on display

Two M1 Abrams tanks from Georgia and several other armoured vehicles were part of the display during the city’s celebration on the National Mall. The Navy’s Blue Angels also performed over the National Mall. Trump acknowledged the tracks on the vehicles could ruin city streets. The DC City Council opposed the display of military vehicles in this way, but Trump wanted to celebrate the military on Independence Day. They rolled into town Tuesday night on trains.

Folk Life Festival wraps up early

It’s unrelated to Trump’s “Salute to America,” but in a major change partially related to the government shutdown earlier in the year, the Smithsonian truncated its yearly Folk Life Festival from 10 days down to just two. The festival, which is meant to expose Americans attending July Fourth celebrations to other cultures, wrapped over the weekend. Instead, this year the festival celebrated the social power of music in the DC area.

Fireworks venue moved

Due to Trump’s event, the launch site for the DC fireworks show was moved from the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial to West Potomac park, along the Potomac river. The DC fireworks show, usually runs about 20 minutes from 9.07 until 9.27pm. This year, thanks to a donation by a fireworks company, it ran a full 35 minutes.

Blue Angels, Air Force One will do flyover

Trump spoke around 2.30am UAE time, speaking individually about each military service — and there was a 21-gun salute and a flyover by the plane that’s known as Air Force One when the President is aboard. Trump spoke first talk about the Coast Guard, with his remarks being followed by the Coast Guard flyover. This format was repeated for the Air Force, then the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Army.

The President then made closing remarks and the Navy’s elite air show squadron, the Blue Angels — which cancelled a planned rest to participate — did their demonstration.

DC airspace closed

In an expensive headache for commercial airlines, airspace around Washington, DC, was closed twice on the July 4. In normal years it does not close at all. But moving the fireworks display launch site closer to the river and adding the aircraft flyovers means new restrictions just before and during the 6.30pm “Salute to America” and the 9.07pm fireworks. The closures will impact nearly 100 scheduled flights, according to a CNN review of flight records. The last time DC airspace was closed was in 2015, when World War II fighters did a ceremonial flyover along the Mall.

Image Credit: Gulf News