Trump To Break From Past July 4th Celebrations By Delivering Speech On National Mall

Jul 2, 2019
Originally published on July 2, 2019 3:36 pm
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So there are concerns about President Trump's plans for July Fourth on the National Mall. After all, the president launched his 2020 campaign, and he will be making a speech. NPR's Tamara Keith reports on this break with the nonpartisan tradition of Independence Day in D.C.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It won't be a political speech. It will be all about celebrating America, the flag and the men and women of the military. That's the word from a White House official who offered details about the president's plans on background. It should be taken with the same grain of salt that comes with all assurances about what President Trump will do or say. Yesterday a reporter asked him whether he could give a speech that can reach all Americans.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think so. I think so. I think I've reached most Americans.

KEITH: Seventeen seconds into the answer, Trump started attacking Democrats.

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TRUMP: What the Democrats plan is is going to destroy the country, and it's going to be horrible health care - horrible health care.

KEITH: The last U.S. president to speak on the National Mall on the Fourth of July was Harry Truman in 1951, marking the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And that's it until Trump. Patrick Maney is a presidential historian at Boston College.

PATRICK MANEY: President Trump is going against the grain of history, what the Fourth of July has meant in the past.

KEITH: In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Maney says the Fourth of July was the one day of the year when people in rural areas would be sure to come into town centers to gather and even listen to local politicians.

MANEY: It brought people together in a way that no other holiday, even including Christmas, did.

KEITH: This community focus continues to this day with small parades and fireworks displays all over America. In short, Independence Day has never really been about Washington, D.C., or the president of the United States. But inspired by Bastille Day celebrations in France, President Trump wants a big display of American military might, and he's decided to give a speech. The question remains. Can President Trump deliver a non-political speech?

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TRUMP: I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts, right?

KEITH: It turns out, President Trump did at length at the 2017 Scout Jamboree.

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TRUMP: We won Florida. We won South Carolina. We won North Carolina. We won Pennsylvania. We won and won.

KEITH: Trump has a tendency to treat nonpartisan events like they're campaign rallies, especially if there's a large crowd. There was the July 1, 2017 event to honor veterans.

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TRUMP: For my very first Independence Day celebration as president, there is no place I'd rather be than with you - tell you that.

KEITH: But before long, the message of appreciation had become this.

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TRUMP: The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I'm president, and they're not.

KEITH: Even addressing troops in Iraq the day after Christmas, President Trump turned partisan. Barry Bennett, a Republican consultant who worked on the Trump campaign in 2016, says it would be a mistake for Trump to deliver partisan remarks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

BARRY BENNETT: You know, I hope it doesn't turn into a political rally. I don't think it will. I think that his vision is that it is about a celebrate America speech.

KEITH: Bennett points to the remarks Trump delivered at Normandy last month to mark the D-Day anniversary.

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TRUMP: More powerful than the strength of American arms was the strength of American hearts.

KEITH: Trump stayed on script, and it was a speech that hit all the right notes, says Bennett.

BENNETT: And I hope that they replicate that for the Fourth of July.

KEITH: Though, minutes before the D-Day speech, with lines of headstones in the shot behind him, President Trump did a TV interview where he hit Democrats and called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a disaster. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.