U.S. President Donald Trump will preside over July Fourth Independence Day celebrations Thursday with a speech about patriotism and a show of military might that critics say is politicizing an important holiday and wasting taxpayer money.
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For decades, presidents have kept a low profile during the parade. However, Trump’s speech will be a departure from tradition. This is the first time military tanks will be present in the rally.
“Perhaps even Air Force One will do a low & loud sprint over the crowd,” Trump tweeted.
This year, Trump plans to speak at a military “Salute to America” event that will feature military bands and flyovers from the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and Air Force One, the modified Boeing 747 that transports U.S. presidents.
The event could also feature M1 Abrams battle tanks, a B-2 bomber, F-35, and F-22 fighter jets, and the Marine One helicopter that transports the president, the Pentagon said. Air traffic at nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport will be suspended during the flyovers and the fireworks, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The antiwar group Code Pink said it had secured a permit to bring a “Baby Trump” blimp, depicting the president in diapers, to a protest in the Mall during his speech.
“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,” Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders wrote on Twitter.
The president is apparently impressed by flashy displays of national pride and military strength put on by France and wants the same for this year’s July 4 parade.
"I was with you for Bastille Day and I have to say it was one of the greatest parades that I have ever seen," Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017.
The July 4th holiday celebrates the U.S. founders’ declaring independence from Britain in 1776.
The parade is also facing controversy due to costs. The White House has not said how much the event is costing but reports have circulated that millions of taxpayers money have been diverted from funds meant for various federal agencies to cover the expenses.
The Washington Post reported that the U.S. National Park Service has diverted US$2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event, which typically costs about US$2 million.
That money is supposed to be used to maintain national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, said Phil Francis, head of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.
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Democratic Representative Betty McCollum, who oversees the Park Service’s budget as head of a House of Representatives subcommittee, accused Trump of “hijacking the celebration and twisting it into a taxpayer-funded, partisan political rally,” and vowed to investigate whether taxpayer money was being misused.
The Trump administration so far has refused to say how much the event will cost in total. The Pentagon postponed a military parade planned for last November after it estimated it could cost US$90 million.
NPR reported that some of the military planes and weapons used in the event could cost thousands of dollars per hour. For example, the Boeing 747 could cost US$205,000 per hour to operate. Transporting military tanks from Fort Stewart in Georgia to the Washington D.C. could cost US$870,000 as told by a White House aide to USA Today.
The firework displays alone could cost US$1 million.
Democrats said the president was in fact with staging a campaign rally. On June 18, Trump officially launched his 2020 campaign to seek a second four-year term.
"The American people deserve to know how much of their money the president is spending to turn their July 4th celebration into a de facto campaign rally. All reports indicate that the president is planning to turn a national day of unity into a day of vanity – trying to use the military for political purposes and doling out perks to his political backers – at the taxpayers' expense. We need answers," three Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Interior Department.
The Interior Department and the Defense Department are responsible for the funding of the celebrations.