WASHINGTON — On a day meant for unity and celebration, President Donald Trump vowed to “safeguard our values” from enemies within — leftists, looters, agitators, he said — in a Fourth of July speech packed with all the grievances and combativeness of his political rallies.
Trump watched paratroopers float to the ground in a tribute to America, greeted his audience of front-line medical workers and others central in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and opened up on those who “slander” him and disrespect the country’s past.
“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” he said. “We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children.”
“And we will protect and preserve American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America,” he added, name-checking the Italian explorer whose legacy has been questioned of late, along with other historical figures involved in perpetuating colonialism, slavery, genocide and other crimes.
Anti-racism protesters who have marched in cities across America are “not interested in justice or healing. Their goal is demolition,” he said.
Carrying on a theme he pounded on a day earlier against the backdrop of the Mount Rushmore monuments, he went after those who have torn down statues or think some of them, particularly those of Confederate figures, should be removed. Support has been growing among Republicans to remove Confederate memorials.
“Our past is not a burden to be cast away,” Trump said.
Some of the US leader’s sharpest words were for the media, which he accused of a campaign to smear opponents as racists.
“The more you lie, the more you slander, the more you try to demean and divide, the more we will work hard to tell the truth and we will win,” Trump said, with four months to go until the election.
He did not mention the dead from the pandemic. Nearly 130,000 are known to have died from COVID-19 in the US.
Instead, he accused China — where the outbreak originated — of a cover-up that allowed the illness to race across the globe, but hailed American “scientific brilliance.”
“We’ll likely have a therapeutic and or vaccine solution long before the end of the year,” he said.
Trump’s guests were doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers and military members as well as officials from the administration, said Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary. He said the event was a tribute to the “tremendous courage and spirit” of front-line workers and the public in the pandemic.
In many parts of the country, authorities discouraged mass gatherings for the holiday after days that have seen COVID-19 cases grow at a rate not experienced even during the deadliest phase of the pandemic in the spring. But Trump enticed the masses with a “special evening” of tribute and fireworks staged from the National Mall.
Fireworks displays are typically a high point of the holiday, but an estimated 80 percent of the events have been canceled this year.
The crowds wandering the National Mall for the night’s air show and fireworks were strikingly thinner those the gathering for last year’s jammed celebration on the Mall.
Many who showed up wore masks, unlike those seated close together for Trump’s South Lawn event, and distancing was easy to do for those scattered across the sprawling space.
Trump’s likely challenger in November, Democrat Joe Biden, struck a sharply different tone on Saturday, tweeting: “Our nation was founded on a simple idea: We’re all created equal. We’ve never lived up to it — but we’ve never stopped trying. This Independence Day, let’s not just celebrate those words, let’s commit to finally fulfill them.”