With U.S. fighter jets flying overhead, President Donald Trump praised the military and revelled in a show of pomp and patriotism on Thursday in a celebration of Independence Day that critics accused him of turning into a political event.
Trump, a Republican who was inspired to stage the flashy affair after seeing a similar display in France, dismissed concerns ahead of the ceremony about the expense and militaristic overtones of the event outside the 97-year-old Lincoln Memorial, a symbol of national unity.
“Our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now,” Trump said from a platform in front of the famous memorial, echoing a theme he uses at campaign rallies.
Flanked by Bradley fighting vehicles, Trump otherwise steered clear of divisive political rhetoric, in a departure from the majority of his speeches. At times, an enthusiastic crowd could be heard chanting: “USA! USA! USA!”
Trump, 73, praised American military might despite having himself avoided the draft during the Vietnam War with bone spurs in his feet. With well-planned choreography, he told stories about each military branch before separate, dramatic flyovers of their respective military aircraft.
“We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flag: the brave men and women of the United States military,” Trump said. “For over 65 years, no enemy Air Force has managed to kill a single American soldier. Because the skies belong to the United States of America.”
Reuters reports that not all the choreography appeared to go off as planned.
A flyover by Air Force One, which Trump had teased earlier in the day on Twitter, occurred unannounced and without fanfare. But a low and spectacular flyover by six F-18s known as the “Blue Angels” at the conclusion of Trump’s speech thrilled the crowd. Some people shouted “Four More Years!” in support of the president.
Trump paid tribute to the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two agencies that have played leading roles in carrying out his tough immigration policies.
He cited as great Americans both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, African-Americans who campaigned for the abolition of slavery more than 100 years ago. That praise could draw criticism as Trump’s administration in May decided to keep Tubman’s image off the $20 bill. He previously raised doubts about his knowledge of Douglass by speaking of the former slave in the present tense as “somebody who’s done an amazing job.”