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Trump touts American exceptionalism in July Fourth speech on National Mall

Divisions in crowd evident at ‘Salute to America’

A flag and cap wave above the crowd watching President Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
A flag and cap wave above the crowd watching President Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Swarms of people from across the country, some drawn by the allure of spectacular fireworks and others by President Donald Trump and his “Salute to America,” converged on the National Mall on Thursday to celebrate Independence Day.

“Make America Great Again” hats mixed with “Trump Baby” balloons and signs calling for impeachment as waves of tourists endured high temperatures and intermittent thunderstorms.

As Trump commemorated the armed forces with his address at the Lincoln Memorial and elaborate flyovers, those in attendance cheered the spectacle. But others positioned near a large “Baby Trump” balloon were blowing whistles and protesting the 45th president, including his policies on immigration.

The Trump protest, which was orchestrated by antiwar feminist group Code Pink, led to some friction with the president’s supporters closer to the Washington Monument. One interaction that occurred during the speech involved a Trump supporter, Mike, who was wearing a Trump shirt that read “Keeping America Great!” and “” on the back along with a camouflage hat and shorts. He shouted and pointed at the group of protesters.

“They want the invasion of our country for people to come here that are using, renting children to come across the border, and it’s child trafficking and they are supporting that,” said Mike, who did not provide a last name.

Trump arrived onstage in front of the Lincoln Memorial at 6:35 p.m., as Air Force One emerged from low clouds and flew overhead and chants of “U-S-A” went up. He began speaking with no further ado, weaving a tale of American exceptionalism that began in 1776 and led to discoveries by Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers and the NASA team that put a man on the moon in 1969.

“We’re going back to the moon,” Trump said. “And some day soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars.”

Before Trump hailed each branch of the military and aircraft flown by their personnel roared overhead — led by Air Force One — he lauded “this majestic land” and said “Americans love our freedom,” vowing “no one will ever take it away from us.”

“That same American spirit that emboldened our founders has kept us strong throughout our history. To this day, that spirit runs through the veins of every American patriot. It lives on in each and every one of you here today,” Trump said, calling the United States “the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.”

Though he mostly appeared to stick to his prepared remarks about the history of the country and the military, Trump did slip in one line he often utters to trumpet his own presidency: “Our nation is stronger today than it ever was before.”

Verbal confrontations

After the speech, there were a few verbal confrontations between the president’s supporters and critics.

Ann Wright, a volunteer for Code Pink and a retired Army colonel, said the protest, which included a structure depicting Trump sitting on the toilet, was the only demonstration in the area and that made it susceptible to people gathering and arguing there.

“We’ve had a lot of very spirited arguments — a lot of them,” Wright said, adding that things sometimes got loud, but no altercations took place.

There was a high security presence throughout, and on many corners armored vehicles stood near Metro Police cars, blocking traffic from the Mall.

People of all political stripes strolling Washington’s streets Thursday expected the president to take a couple of jabs at his political foes. Instead, Trump’s remarks struck a unifying tone.

“Americans always take care of each other. That love and unity held together,” he said after two Army helicopters had passed overhead. “The future belongs to the brave, the strong and the free. … We are one people. … And we are all made by the same almighty God.”

Earlier in the day, a man walking in front of the Justice Department on Pennsylvania Avenue holding one of the balloons mocking Trump smiled and nodded at a younger man wearing a T-shirt that read: “All Aboard the Trump Train.”

Exchanges like that were common.

“Everyone has been very polite. I’ve had no problems all day,” said a woman named Lisa, who hails from Maryland and was sitting outside the National Museum of American History holding her own “Baby Trump” balloon. (Like others, she asked to have her last name withheld, citing media skepticism.)

“People wearing MAGA stuff really don’t say anything to me. That’s a little surprising,” she said. “I was curious how they would act.”

A woman named Karen — who also demurred on providing her last name — reported the same about anti-Trump members of the holiday crowd as she walked down Pennsylvania Avenue carrying a replica of an American flag  with the stripes replaced with AR-15 rifles.

“Two people flipped us off, but that’s about all,” the Arizona resident said with a laugh. Asked if she wanted the president to refrain from attacking his political foes during his Lincoln Memorial speech, her face lit up as she said, “I don’t care. Freedom of speech applies to everyone.”

‘Share positive messages’

After driving from Livonia, Michigan, on Tuesday, Rob Cortis parked his “Trump Unity Bridge” — a trailer float festooned with signs promoting the president and speakers blaring patriotic songs — on 14th Street Northwest across from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Our mission is to encourage Americans to share positive messages like the ones you see on the Trump Unity Bridge float that came from people just like you all across America from all 50 states,” Cortis said.

Along with a massive “Build The Wall” sign, messages on the float included “I Stand,” ostensibly a reference to NFL players who have protested racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. Cortis was selling “Trump 2020” and “Make American Great Again” hats for $20 each, or three for $50.

People watch President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
People watch Trump’s “Salute to America” celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Don Kriner of Brooksville, Florida, grimaced slightly in the mid-afternoon sun as he noted that sales of his pro-Trump T-shirts and ball caps had — so far, at least — been slow.

“I’m a capitalist, so I make shirts for anybody. I just did a run of Bernie Sanders shirts,” he said with a grin, noting that his friends used to call him “Carny” even though he’s never been in the carnival business. “It’s been slow today, but this isn’t a rally. This is a different deal right here.”

Deborah Johnson and her husband, Thomas, said they made the trek from Long Island, New York, to support Trump and celebrate the Fourth of July.

“This is the nation’s capital, it should at least have a Fourth of July celebration that’s second to none,” Thomas Johnson said.

“And since fake news is saying that he’s doing something unusual, I wanted to support him,” Deborah Johnson said, referring to earlier reports that there would be tanks in the parade that she attended. Tanks were on display at the Lincoln Memorial where Trump spoke, but they were not part of the annual parade held earlier in the day.

‘Some cool flyovers’

Crystal Abraham and Christopher Hensley came from Detroit to celebrate their sixth anniversary, see a great show and hear Trump speak.

“So we’re hoping to see some cool flyovers and some space program stuff,” Hensley said. He added that they would hopefully hear Trump’s speech.

As a steady rain fell outside the African American museum, driving a diverse crowd under an overhang on its south front, Victoria Humper and her daughter were looking for a place to sit down.

The Melbourne, Australia, resident — who expressed deep confusion about the Trump movement — said she has been to Washington numerous times, including for multiple Independence Day celebrations.

“This feels really hyped. It feels empty compared to when I’ve been here in the past on July 4,” she said, sporting a light blue “I Love NY” cap she picked up on her family’s recent visit to the Big Apple. “The security feels 100 percent heavier. I was sitting outside the White House this morning, drinking a bottle of water. The Secret Service officers asked me why I was there. That was definitely different.”

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Several people who attended the morning’s annual July Fourth parade reported a heavy law enforcement presence, but no incidents or problems moving around.

“There was either police or military every few meters,” said Catalin Bolboaca, a Brazilian in town for the summer. “I’m not a fan of Donald Trump or how he does things. But I want to hear what he says in his speech, and see how the public reacts to him.”

As Bolboaca spoke, a middle-aged man in a red “Make America Great Again” hat walked by and flashed a thumbs-up. “Happy Fourth of July,” he said loudly.

As Bolboaca rejoined his friends, another middle-aged man whose wife advised him to say nothing else to a reporter added this: “Donald Trump, the enemy of the people.”

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