WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — Tanks in the heart of Washington, fighter jets screaming overhead, and a speech from the Lincoln Memorial: US President Donald Trump is promising the “show of a lifetime” as he prepares to turn the Fourth of July into a personal prime-time extravaganza.
The commander-in-chief and erstwhile Manhattan showman plans to tear up another norm, critics say, by hijacking traditionally non-partisan Independence Day as he seeks re-election.
“Our July 4th Salute to America at the Lincoln Memorial is looking to be really big. It will be the show of a lifetime!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
“We have the greatest economy anywhere in the world. We have the greatest military anywhere in the world. Not bad!” he added.
Usually, said Rich Hanley, a media and popular culture expert at Quinnipiac University, July 4 works as a kind of national ceasefire.
“It’s a day when people can set aside their polarized differences…and raise the flag without entering into political discussions,” he said. “Then on the 5th they go back to normal.”
But this year, the familiar script is being given a rewrite.
At around 6:30 p.m. (22:30 GMT), Trump will take to the hallowed steps of the Lincoln Memorial for an unprecedented “Salute to America” event that will include a televised address, military hardware and a giant fireworks display. The nation’s top military brass will have a front row seat.
The modified Boeing 747 used as Air Force One will fly over, as will noisy, powerful warplanes expected to include F-35s, and jets from the Navy’s Blue Angels air show team.
A handful of tanks and fighting vehicles are now stationed near the Lincoln Memorial although the enormous machines are not expected to roll, as their tracks would likely tear up city streets.
The center of attention, however, will not be the weapons. Or the nearly million dollars’ worth of fireworks that are in the works, a donation from two big manufacturers.
Rather, it will be Trump.
“Your favorite President, me!” as he tweeted when announcing the show.
Non-partisan no more
July 4 is a unique holiday in that it is hyper-patriotic but free from usual Republican-Democratic fighting and it is far more civic than military in nature.
Inserting such a high-profile presidential address into the festivities risks changing that, given that the polarizing Trump is supported by just over 40 percent of the country ahead of his 2020 reelection bid and fervently opposed by much of the remaining electorate.
Counter-protesters plan to bring their own kind of political fireworks to the National Mall, the grassy park running all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol.
Leftist organization Code Pink is deploying its “Baby Trump” blimp, a large inflated doll depicting the president in nappies.
But the National Park Service denied permission to fill the inflatable with helium, so the depiction of a cranky, infantile Trump will stay on the ground.
Many are up in arms about what all this is going to cost. The White House has refused to say so far.
“Instead of addressing something like veteran homelessness, he’s spending it on boosting his ego with a parade that’s fundamentally about him,” said Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro. “What a waste of money.”
Salesman, showman, president
A former reality TV star, Trump is tapping his considerable showmanship skills ahead of the event.
Just being up on the Lincoln Memorial will guarantee unbeatable pictures.
The statue honoring civil war president Abraham Lincoln is famous as the location for Martin Luther King Jr’s epic 1963 “I have a dream” speech.
But Trump’s inspiration appears to be taken less from that civil rights cry than a Bastille Day military parade he attended in 2017 as a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron.
So impressed was Trump that he came up with the idea of putting on a major extravaganza for Veteran’s Day, which is marked on November 11. But an outcry over the almost $100 million price tag meant it had to be scrapped.
Now he’ll get a scaled-back version.
As he prepared for the big day Trump downplayed the issue of cost.
“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth,” Trump wrote.
“We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!