0901 GMT October 20, 2019
Trump, a Republican who was inspired to stage the flashy affair after seeing a similar display in France, dismissed concerns ahead of the ceremony about the expense and militaristic overtones of the event outside the 97-year-old Lincoln Memorial, a symbol of national unity, Reuters reported.
Ahead of the speech, Democrats accused the president of staging an out-of-place campaign rally, aware he has a history of veering off script with sharp partisan attacks even at events that are not meant to be overtly political.
Trump supporters and opponents carried American flags and wore red, white and blue outfits.
“Our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now,” Trump said from a platform in front of the famous memorial, echoing a theme he uses at campaign rallies.
Trump praised American military might despite having himself avoided the draft during the Vietnam War with bone spurs in his feet. With well-planned choreography, he told stories about each military branch before separate, dramatic flyovers of their respective military aircraft.
Not all the choreography appeared to go off as planned.
A flyover by Air Force One, which Trump had teased earlier in the day on Twitter, occurred unannounced and without fanfare. But a low and spectacular flyover by six F-18s known as the “Blue Angels” at the conclusion of Trump’s speech thrilled the crowd.
Trump paid tribute to the US Border Patrol and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two agencies that have played leading roles in carrying out his tough immigration policies.
He cited as great Americans both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, African-Americans who campaigned for the abolition of slavery more than 100 years ago. That praise could draw criticism as Trump’s administration in May decided to keep Tubman’s image off the $20 bill. He previously raised doubts about his knowledge of Douglass by speaking of the former slave in the present tense as “somebody who’s done an amazing job.”
Earlier in the day thousands of supporters wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats, along with opponents questioning the cost of the event, poured into the US capital despite scorching temperatures and intermittent rain, while a diapered “Baby Trump” balloon sat next to a banner calling Trump a traitor.
US flag burned
Leftist protesters burned an American flag outside the White House and then clashed with supporters of Trump, including the far-right Proud Boys group, not long before Trump took the stage for his "Salute to America."
The protests, which turned into violent clashes at times, took place just blocks from crowds who had gathered to watch Trump's speech and fireworks displays on the National Mall, CNN reported.
Led by activist Joey Johnson, a group from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, linked arms and set an American flag on fire outside as they chanted, "America was never great." The Secret Service intervened quickly to extinguish the fire.
"Burn, baby, burn," the protesters chanted.
In a news release before the event, Johnson said he was leading the protest because "I'm going to be speaking to the people of the world letting them know that there are people inside the borders of this country who stand with the people of the world."
After the flag was extinguished, Johnson's group clashed with a group of pro-Trump protesters, who began chanting, "Trump 2020." The two groups traded chants and scuffles that occasionally turned violent.
Multiple protesters, including Johnson, were escorted from the scene in handcuffs by the Secret Service. A news release after the event from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, said Johnson was among those arrested.
“This is costing us millions and millions of dollars. We the taxpayers are paying for it, for Donald Trump to use our military as a prop. And that’s just not right,” said Medea Benjamin, cofounder of the women-led peace group Code Pink, before the event.
Republican political groups were given prime tickets for Trump’s speech, and the Washington Post reported that the US National Park Service diverted $2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders weighed in with criticism: “This is what authoritarians do: @realDonaldTrump is taking $2.5 million away from our National Park Service to glorify himself with a spectacle of military tanks rolling through Washington,” he wrote in a tweet.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, leading in opinion polls in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in Iowa: “Donald Trump, I believe, is incapable of celebrating what makes America great, because I don’t think he gets it.”
Trump played down the expense.
“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he posted on Twitter on Wednesday.
The July 4th holiday celebrates the US founders’ declaring independence from Britain in 1776.