Love of country? Or a political stunt? Trump holiday speech divides Americans
By Jonas Ekblom and Bryan Pietsch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jan Shairrick and two friends drove more than a thousand miles from southern Arkansas to join President Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” Independence Day celebrations in Washington.
Some residents of the capital, however, stayed well away from the nearby festivities for fear of being wrongly identified as Trump supporters.
Trump has injected himself into this year’s Fourth of July celebrations by planning a speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial and organizing a show of military power that includes a display of tanks and a flyover of fighter jets.
Critics accused Trump of hijacking and politicizing a traditionally nonpartisan holiday. Supporters said he was merely showing love for the country and its military.
“It’s just a celebration of America,” said Shairrick, sporting a “Trump 2020” baseball cap, a reference to the presidential election in November next year.
She and her friends all wore Trump merchandise and took refuge in one of the few shady spots along the route for the Independence Day parade on Constitution Avenue.
They said they saw no reason to protest Trump’s plans for this year’s event.
“The military protects us,” said one friend, Debra Dickson, who has several family members in the military.
Just a mile east, residents of the Capitol Hill neighborhood had their own, much smaller parade on Thursday morning and many said they would not attend the “Salute to America” because they felt the July 4 celebrations had been taken over by Trump.
“This year we’re not going,” said Irina, a resident who said she usually takes her two young children to the concert by the U.S. Capitol and watches the fireworks display over the National Mall.
“This is the holiday that unites all Americans but it seems that’s not what is happening today unfortunately,” she said, declining to give her last name.
Code Pink, an organization that says it works to end U.S. wars and militarism, filled up a large diapered “Baby Trump” balloon on the National Mall in protest.
Medea Benjamin, a protester with the group, said the presence of tanks on the street scared her. “Where are we going as a nation? I don’t like it at all.”
Along the July 4th parade route, where vendors sold bright-red “Make America Great Again” hats, many had no such concerns.
Susan DeGraff from Hockessin, Delaware, said she liked Trump’s involvement in the celebrations. “He’s absolutely not politicizing the event,” she said. “He’s the president!”
Schoolteacher Tiffany O’Brien traveled from Deerfield Beach, Florida just for the celebrations. “I think he loves the country and he wants everyone else to love it as well.”
The July 4 holiday, which celebrates the anniversary of the U.S. founders declaring independence from Britain in 1776, has by tradition not been a day when the president takes center stage.
The last time a U.S. president spoke during celebrations in the capital was in 1951 when Harry Truman celebrated the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
In a series of tweets this week, Trump said the event on Thursday would be “the show of a lifetime” and that “perhaps even Air Force One will do a low & loud sprint over the crowd.” Air Force One is the presidential plane.
(Reporting by Jonas Ekblom and Bryan Pietsch; Editing by Kieran Murray and Howard Goller)
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