US president Donald Trump boasted that the US is “stronger today than it ever was before” as he delivered a long and patriotic Independence Day speech that individually praised every branch of the country’s military for past victories.
Speaking from the steps of Washington’s grand Lincoln Memorial as part of his unorthodox July 4 celebration in the nation’s capital, Mr Trump appeared to stick to his prepared script, celebrating US “love and unity”, the “rugged American character”, and “the American spirit”.
“As we gather this evening in the joy of freedom, we remember that we all share a truly extraordinary heritage. Together, we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told — the story of America,” said Mr Trump, who broke with Washington’s July 4 traditions to make remarks to supporters on the Mall, who were soaked by a late rainstorm.
Listing American achievements, which he said included the Super Bowl, the skyscraper, and the suspension bridge, Mr Trump paused occasionally to introduce and thank selected US citizens, and recounted the founding of America. He also vowed to soon “plant the American flag on Mars”.
Calling acting defence secretary Mark Esper and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Joseph Dunford to the stage, Mr Trump began listing and praising each of the separate arms of the US military in turn, pausing only for polite smatterings of applause.
The Navy’s elite Blue Angels squadron flew overhead, along with Air Force One, the plane that usually transports Mr Trump, F-22 Raptors and a B-2 stealth bomber. Other military vehicles involved in the celebrations included two M1 Abrams tanks, two Bradley fighting vehicles and an armoured M88 recovery vehicle.
The president had come under fire over his demands to include tanks and military jets in the festivities this year, bucking the norms for the celebration which sees hundreds of thousands of people typically gather for a night of fireworks and music.
“I think each time he gets around military troops and assets, he tends to politicise them and they get drawn more and more into his appropriation of the military for himself,” John Kirby, a retired admiral who served as the top spokesperson for both the Pentagon and the state department during the Obama administration, told CNN.
“This is not about how we won our independence, it’s about declaring our independence,” said Mr Kirby. “It should not be about the military.”
Following Mr Trump’s speech, fireworks were launched from the nearby West Potomac Park, instead of their usual spot on the Mall. The runways at nearby Ronald Reagan airport were shut down twice during the day.
The evening schedule was also delayed for about 35 minutes by a late afternoon summer deluge.
Although several Trump supporters in the crowd on the Mall were wearing “Make America Great” hats, not everyone had turned out just to see Mr Trump speak.
Featured alongside the display of US military prowess on the Mall was a large inflatable balloon of Mr Trump styled as a baby, which anti-Trump protesters had been given permission to station near the Washington Monument.
The protesters were prevented from filling the balloon with helium and floating it off the ground by downtown Washington’s “no-fly zone” rules, however, leading them to complain that Mr Trump would not be able to see it as he delivered his speech.