“We’re obviously concerned about the political nature of the event,” Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., told me. Referencing Trump’s VIP section, Bowser noted that “people from all backgrounds and beliefs come down to watch the fireworks with their families and friends. The addition of a seemingly private event could change the tone of that.”
Trump is unmoved. As always, he has the TV audience foremost in his mind, and the show could be eye-popping. The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will perform aerial acrobatics. In addition to fighter jets, the helicopters and blue-and-white 747s reserved for the president’s use will take part in flyovers.
“Our July 4th Salute to America at the Lincoln Memorial is looking to be really big. It will be the show of a lifetime!” Trump tweeted today. The White House has said little about the event. A spokesman referred questions about cost to the National Park Service, which did not respond to a request for comment. In a separate tweet today, Trump said the cost “will be very little compared to what it’s worth.”
In a period of intense political tribalism, it’s potentially perilous for a president to inject himself into what has typically been a nonpartisan exercise. Former President Barack Obama angered Republicans in 2009 when he delivered something as benign as a back-to-school address at a high school in Northern Virginia. A Florida Republican Party official at the time complained that Obama’s speech was an attempt to “indoctrinate” children and spread “socialist ideology.” (In the end, his remarks were pretty plain vanilla—not one favorable mention of Norman Thomas or other notable socialists. Obama did warn the kids that there was “no excuse for neglecting your homework.” None.)
But perhaps tribalism is the point. In his remarks, Trump looks poised to wade into more partisan territory. Speaking to reporters yesterday, the presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said that Trump’s speech will carry a few self-congratulatory notes. He’ll talk about “the success of this administration in opening up so many jobs for individuals, and what we’ve done for veterans,” she said.
Trump has long sought to fuse his nationalist MAGA brand with patriotic signs and symbols that are supposed to hover above party. He literally hugged the flag at a speech to conservative activists in March. Throughout his term, he’s picked fights with NFL players, especially the former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, for kneeling in protest during the national anthem. In that sense, the Fourth of July was, for Trump, ripe for takeover.
There’s a practical element, too: He is using the VIP-seating area to reward loyalists and donors, even if the seats may lack the cachet of, say, a White House visit. “It’s not a state-dinner ticket, which I’d really rather get,” a Trump supporter, who was offered a VIP ticket and spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me.