Trump’s Fourth of July speech during his “Salute to America” event was a populist and newly militarized appeal to his base.
When it rains, it pours. Precipitation was a leitmotif of Trump’s “Salute to America” parade, which took place on the national mall. Despite the heavy rain, there was no official word from the White House that the event would be delayed or altered. Any doubts that the pouring rain would stop Trump were dispelled by the President’s tweet, which stated things would go ahead as planned.
As Trump and the first lady left their residence, they were followed with a live video feed. Everyone at the mall could watch the president’s motorcade progressing toward Lincoln’s memorial.
The conflation of Independence Day with military might
What should have been a peaceful 4th of July celebration, a celebration of the Union’s 243rd birthday, was, for the first time in history, turned into a partisan rally and military review. Trump supporters along the parade’s borders could be heard chanting “USA,” but the subtext was clear: the honoree of this event was not the country, but its president.
Trump’s speech at the parade was inaccurate, outdated and un-American. It not only got American history wrong, but it was also filled with old, European-style nationalism and populism. Trump stated on camera:
“In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified Army out of the Revolutionary Forces encamped around Boston and New York,” Trump said. “… Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rocket’s red glare it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their star-spangled banner waved defiant.”
There was no air travel or airports in America in the 18th century.
Trump did not make his usual MAGA remarks and attacks on the free press, but his stirring of partisan sentiment and Putin-esque boasting with the military might will still serve to reinforce his base for his reelection campaign. Though it wasn’t made explicit, this was a nationalist event, not a national one.
Autocrats throughout history have used military stories and imagery to garner support without having to make any reference to their party. By using the 4th of July to manipulate voters and the electoral framework in a similar way, Trump echoed the 20th century’s worst actors. He weaponized patriotism to grab more power.
An upper and a lower chamber of American citizens
“Salute to America” marks a shift in the country. Trump has co-opted one of the few remaining symbols of our national unity, and he has done it in plain sight, with applause from his VIP guests. Those guests, gathered in clumps beneath Trump’s stage, were mostly elite, awarded with tickets by the members of Congress.
The rest of the attendees were placed far away from the president, behind metal barricades and could watch Trump’s speech only over the large screens placed at alongside the event’s perimeter. The event layout divided the crowd, creating an upper and a lower chamber of American citizens.
It was an awkward spectacle to see tanks on the streets of the nation’s capital and military planes flying in the cloudy sky. Trump’s speech was awkward to match. Never coming to a point, the president instead opted to record a smattering of American touchstones: the Revolutionary War, the Civil Rights movement, the moon landing and the service of law enforcement and the armed forces.
“Our nation has always honored the heroes who serve our communities. The firefighters, first responders, police, sheriffs, ICE, border patrol and all the brave men and women of law enforcement. On this July 4th, we pay special tribute to the military service members who laid down their lives for our nation.”
The only clear takeaway from the speech was that it was intended to militarize America under the banner of the American dream: “We are one people, chasing one dream, and one magnificent destiny.” The president even made an open call to the citizens to join the US military.
Trump, who has never served in the military, became more ardent than a recruiter, going on one of the longest speeches of the American president, stopping it for flyovers of the four branches of the military.
The following list contains aircraft involved in 4 of July’s flyovers and other equipment present for the event:
Air Platforms participating in Salute to America:
Air Force One
Blue Angels (F-18 (6))
US Coast Guard Aircraft: MH-60 (1)/ MH-65 (1) / C-130 (1)
US Air Force Aircraft: B-2 (1) / F-22 (2)
US Marine Corps Aircraft: V-92 (1) / V-22 (2)
US Army: Aircraft: AH-64 (4)
US Navy: F-35 (2) / F-18 (2)
M1A2 Abrams Tanks (2)
M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles (2)
M88 Recovery Vehicle (1)
Contact Truck with crew (1)
The following guests attended the event:
The White House
President Donald J. Trump
First Lady Melania Trump
Vice President Mike Pence
Second Lady Karen Pence
Acting Secretary Mark T. Esper, Department of Defense
Secretary David Bernhardt, Department of the Interior
Secretary Alex Acosta, Department of Labor
Secretary Alex Azar, Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary Elaine Chao, Department of Transportation
Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Environmental Protection Agency
Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative
United States Military Leaders
Gen Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
James McPherson, Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary of the Army
LTG (P) Joseph M. Martin, Incoming Vice Chief of the Staff of the Army
Secretary Richard Spencer, Secretary of the Navy
ADM Bob Burke, Vice Chief of Naval Operations
LtGen Eric Smith, Deputy Commandant, Marine Corps Development Command
Acting Secretary Matthew Donovan, Acting Secretary of the Air Force
Gen Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force
LTG Daniel Hokanson, Director of the Army National Guard
ADM Karl Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard