We used to believe that some things in Washington were above politics: the cherry blossoms, the Easter Egg Roll, the Fourth of July.
But now President Donald Trump is trying to change that by turning the nation’s birthday into one of his noxious rallies.
He’s getting regular briefings on the party planning. He’s offering suggestions on where the fireworks barge should be, and he’s asking Americans to “hold the date” for him, just like a wedding planner, according to what administration aides told The Washington Post.
All this comes down to that crowd count, doesn’t it?
Rebranding the Fourth of July celebration as a Trump thing will finally give our commander in chief the bragging rights he’s so thirsty for.
Trump has yet to draw a big crowd in this town, where just 4 percent of the voters supported him in the 2016 presidential election.
And it’s hard to forget the aerial photos of the Mall at his inauguration, which looked like a receding hairline compared with the thick and colorful crowds at both of President Barack Obama’s inaugurations, the Women’s March in 2017, the March for Our Lives against gun violence in 2018 and the line outside Maydan or Rose’s Luxury on a Friday night.
So it’s easy to understand his eagerness to lay claim to the huge crowd of locals and tourists who flock to the Mall every year for the annual celebration of our nation’s founding. He promises on Twitter to deliver “an address by your favorite president, me!”
There’s little hope that Trump could muster the decorum and dignity necessary for the occasion. See his unseemly speech to the Boy Scout Jamboree of 2017, his vainglorious address to the intelligence community at the CIA Memorial Wall, his continued attacks against the late senator John McCain, R-Arizona.
“It’s not about any one president. It’s about how our nation came to be, because of a hardy band of brave men and women,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Florida. “It’s not about any one person, it’s about ‘We, the people.’ And if the president moves to make this about him, I think he will find the American public disappointed and angered by it.”
Trump’s anschluss of Washington’s Fourth of July celebration is unprecedented. For scores of years, presidents have been totally low key about the big day, letting the country take center stage.
Trump could follow in the footsteps of past presidents. Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson used July Fourth to deliver policy speeches in different cities across America. That would work for Trump. President Dwight D. Eisenhower played golf during most of his Independence Days in office, also a viable option. In 2000, President Bill Clinton reviewed naval ships in New York harbor. Something like that could work for Trump, after the $92 million military parade he wanted in Washington was rejected.
If Trump follows through on his threat to co-opt Fourth of July, Washingtonians who want to celebrate America, but not Trump, will have to decide whether to go.
At least, there’s little chance of seeing his name in the sky, no matter how many times Mitch McConnell chants “Morsmordre” to conjure the name of his leader.
Although fireworks are becoming increasingly sophisticated — with smiley faces, hearts and a spectacular display of the American flag — letters are still hard to pull off, according to pyrotechnists who spoke to National Geographic.
As most of Washington decided against going to Trump’s inauguration, should Washingtonians also boycott this celebration?
Nah. Because this is our tradition. And in this town, there are some things that even Trump can’t take away from the people.
Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post’s local team.