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Explainer: Why have Trump's Fourth of July plans annoyed so many people?

Celebrations in Washington usually go off without the involvement of the president in a bid to leave politics outside patriotism.

Military band practices ahead of Trump's speech.
Military band practices ahead of Trump's speech.
Image: UPI/PA Images

THE FOURTH OF July is arguably the biggest annual celebration in the United States but a decision by Trump to put his own stamp on this year’s festivities has sparked controversy.

Celebrations in Washington usually go off without the involvement of the president in a bid to leave politics outside patriotism.

This year, however, Trump is set to take centre stage in what he himself describes as “the show of a lifetime”.

Surrounded by hundreds of military troops and vehicles, the president will address crowds at the Lincoln Memorial, which is usually opened to the public on July 4, but is this year now ticket-only.

He has drafted in troops at a cost of millions, redirecting funds that were earmarked for national parks, in what critics including New York mayor Bill deBlasio who described the plans to US media as a “military display” to boost his own ego 

So we’re looking at what is involved in Trump’s salute to America and why it has annoyed so many people.

What is Trump changing?

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC sits in front of the National Mall – a national park, where Trump’s inauguration took place, and which stretches from the memorial to Capitol Hill on the far end. 

The National Mall is usually left entirely open to the public on 4 July, where a concert is performed, and a huge fireworks display is let off.

This year, however, will see Trump take to a stage in the national park – the first president to do so in over 70 years – and deliver a speech which he has titled ‘Salute to America’.

The celebration will be a ticket-only event, with up to 15,000 tickets being made available, along with 500 VIP tickets, some of which Trump has already promised to his Republican donors and colleagues.

Trump’s takeover of the park, along with drafting in a military show, has irked many who say the national holiday should be used as an opportunity to unite rather than divide the nation through politics.

Democratic representative Betty McCollum, said it was “absolutely outrageous” that the administration will use park money to hold the events. 

Meanwhile, Independent representative Tracie Lenihan said: “I think it cost a lot of money and I’m not sure what it really has to do with the 4 July.”

The White House has refuted these claims saying there will be no divisive rhetoric in his speech and that it will remain a partisan affair, according to RTÉ.

Naturally, Democrats are not convinced of this, with many of them criticising it as an election-2020 rally for the Trump campaign but on the taxpayer’s dime.

“This is what authoritarians do,” Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said in a tweet.

“[Trump] is taking $2.5 million away from our National Park Service to glorify himself with a spectacle of military tanks rolling through Washington. And top GOP donors are getting VIP seats, all at taxpayer expense.”

The last president to make a speech on the National Mall was on 4 July was Harry Truman in 1951, when he marked the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

So why did Trump draft in the military show now?

Trump has long been advocating for a large military presence during 4 July festivities after watching the Bastille Day celebrations in France in 2017.

This year he has made that a reality, with the avenues surrounding the mall decorated with military tanks and jets flying overhead.

At the direction of the White House, the Pentagon has arranged for an Air Force B-2 stealth bomber and other warplanes to conduct flyovers.

Fourth of July Trump Two Bradley military tanks flank the stage at the Lincoln Memorial. Source: Jacquelyn Martin

There will also be Navy F-35 and F-18 fighter jets, the elite Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team, Army and Coast Guard helicopters and Marine V-22 Ospreys.

The Air Force said it costs $122,311 (or €108,360) to fly the B-2 bomber for one hour alone.

On the ground, Bradley military tanks are in place, along with two 60-tonne Army Abrams battle tanks, which were sent by rail for the events.

Local representatives have voiced concerns for the damage the tanks could cause on surrounding streets.

Kevin Donahue, District of Columbia deputy mayor for public safety, said the city expects the federal government to pay for any damage caused on streets and bridges by the tanks.

Any damage caused by the tanks will likely be a small expense though, compared to the millions it is expected to cost to transport the machinery to Washington in the first place

The National Parks Service said $2.5 million (or €2.22 million) was redirected to cover the cost of the Trump appearance. 

So, while Democrats and Republicans are both at odds with Trump’s decision to put off a show at the National Mall, the celebrations will go on for the rest of America. 

Critics will be watching closely as the events unfold today and the reactions in the days to follow. 

Withreporting from Associated Press.

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