Commentary: Why I'm Passing On Trump's Fourth Of July 'Salute To Me'

Jul 3, 2019

He just can't leave it alone. Donald Trump had to find some way to make America's most patriotic holiday – Independence Day – about him.

For well over 200 years, Independence Day has been about Americans celebrating the 1776 break with Great Britain in their own ways.

Some fire up grills in backyards and feed the neighbors sausages and burgers. Others take to the water, to run their boats up and down the river, maybe dropping a fishing line into the water in hopes of finding those catfish and large-mouth bass.

Others risk life and limb shooting off backyard fireworks; the more cautious among us are content to watch the official fireworks displays in thousands of American small towns and big cities, from sea to shining sea.

Donald Trump wants us to listen to him give a speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

With fighter jets flying overhead. With Air Force One making a pass over the late afternoon crowd. (Although it won't actually be Air Force One at that point because the president will not be on it.)

Military tanks and other armored vehicles will be parked around the National Mall. (Parked, only because someone finally got it through their thick skulls that parading enormous, tracked vehicles up and down Pennsylvania Avenue could tear up a lot of roadway and infrastructure.)

And, of course, a speech by the president himself.   

On June 6, Trump tweeted out his plans to an America which could easily find itself bored on Thursday.

"HOLD THE DATE!'' tweeted the president, who has made it acceptable to use all capital letters again. "We will be having one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington, D.C. on July 4. It will be called 'A Salute to America' and will be held at the Lincoln Memorial. Major fireworks display, entertainment and address by your favorite President, me!"

Imagine, for a moment, the enormous chutzpah it takes to suggest that you are America's favorite president when you are talking about giving a political speech in front of the marble, seated statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.

Holy moly.

Forty-three men have held this office prior to Trump and not one of them - ever - has intruded himself into a celebration by the American people like the Fourth of July. A proclamation, yes. A ceremony or a musical concert in the East Room of the White House, yes.

But not a potentially massive spectacle outside of the Lincoln Memorial, starring President Me.

Think for a moment of the unmitigated gall it takes to stage a national celebration of yourself on a truly important holiday that Americans have loved for over 200 years.

And if you think it is coincidental that this president is doing this in the year before his re-election campaign you had better grab hold of your senses with both hands and hold on for dear life, because the next 16 months might be tough for you.

Trump's Salute to Me is especially a gag-me-with-a-spoon moment when, between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, after his speech, a true traditional celebration will be going on at the other end of the Mall, by the Capitol – A Capitol Fourth, a entertainment and fireworks extravaganza produced by PBS and broadcast to U.S. troops around the world.

Fireworks explode over the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol, along the National Mall in Washington during 2018's Fourth of July celebration.
Credit Jose Luis Magana / AP

"This fits so perfectly with everything this White House does,'' said David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati. "There will be a massive number of people who find this appalling, beyond comprehension. Then there will be another crowd of people at the Lincoln Memorial cheering on their hero."

Niven said he isn't aware of any president injecting himself into this truly beloved national holiday.

"When a person becomes president, people expect the job to elevate the person,'' Niven said. "This clearly hasn't happened here."

Alex Triantafilou, the Hamilton County GOP chairman whose birthday is on the Fourth of July, defended Trump's Salute to Me by saying that "it just fits the brand. He's an American first and very patriotic. Just get past the cynicism and let the man speak."

We're not at all sure what that means. The other 43 who served in the presidency were not patriotic because they didn't glom on to a national holiday for self-promotion? Boy, did they miss out on a sure thing.

I hope that each and every one of you will be doing something Thursday to celebrate our independence; something fun with your family and friends.

As for me, I will be doing something that afternoon that is quintessentially American and does not involve the Salute to Me at all.

I will be in the mezzanine at Great American Ball Park watching my beloved Cincinnati Reds.

Let me know how the Salute to Me comes out.

On second thought, don’t let me know. Don't really care.  

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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