As part of President Donald Trump's ongoing efforts to lead a "jingoistic" celebration for the Fourth of July—inspired by his attendance at the Bastille Day parade in Paris two years ago—the president is reportedly demanding that tanks or other armored military vehicles be stationed on the National Mall during his planned address.
"Trump is still angling for a Giant Tank Parade and trying to figure out how to distribute tickets to his taxpayer-funded VIP section—even though the hostages in the child destruction centers lack soap and toothbrushes."
—Walter Shaub, ethics expert
The Washington Post reported Monday, citing several unnamed sources, that "the ongoing negotiations over whether to use massive military hardware, such as Abrams tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as a prop for Trump's 'Salute to America' is just one of many unfinished details when it comes to the celebration planned for Thursday."
The newspaper added that defense officials confirmed "the Pentagon is aware of Trump's interest in having armored vehicles involved and is weighing having static displays of them during the celebration."
After the annual National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C. Thursday afternoon, Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Though the tanks aren't yet confirmed, Trump's event "will honor each of the nation's five service branches with music, military demonstrations, multiple flyovers including a flight demonstration by the Blue Angels, and much more," according to the Interior Department.
— VoteVets (@votevets) July 1, 2019
Since Trump was a guest of honor at the French parade in July of 2017, he has been vocal about his desire to host a massive military parade in the United States. Last August, the president cancelled plans to hold such a parade in the nation's capital during Veterans Day weekend because the estimated costs were so high—which Trump, in a tweet, blamed on "the local politicians who run Washington, D.C. (poorly)."
In February, Trump again turned to Twitter to announce his plans to hold the Salute to America event on July 4, claiming that "we will be having one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington, D.C." The negotiations with the National Park Service to bring in military vehicles for Trump's speech, per the Post, are just part of the administration's sizable role in organizing this year's Independence Day celebration.
White House officials intend to give out tickets for attendees to sit in a VIP section and watch Trump's speech, but did not develop a distribution system before much of the staff left for Asia last week, according to two administration officials. Officials are also still working on other key crowd management details, such as how to get attendees through magnetometers in an orderly fashion.
Traditionally, major gatherings on the Mall, including inauguration festivities and a jubilee commemorating the start of a new millennium, have featured a designated event producer. But in this case, the producer is the president himself.
Trump has demonstrated an unusual level of interest in this year's Independence Day observance, according to three senior administration officials. He has received regular briefings about it from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, according to the people briefed on the plan, and has weighed in on everything from how the pyrotechnics should be launched to how the military should be honored.
Trump's reported attention to the event—particularly given pressing issues such as the detention of migrant children under inhumane conditions at the U.S. southern border—provoked sharp criticism Monday.
Days before the event, Trump is still angling for a Giant Tank Parade and trying to figure out how to distribute tickets to his taxpayer-funded VIP section — even though the hostages in the child destruction centers lack soap and toothbrushes. #Boycott https://t.co/TBigV8s43j
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 1, 2019
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In response to the reporting about Trump requesting tanks for his speech, Rolling Stone's Ryan Bort wrote that the Salute to America event "is poised to be one of the gaudiest, most over-the-top displays of jingoism in American history."
Some critics, including CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, have previously condemned the president's push to headline a military extravaganza as "a gross example of Trump's narcissism" as well as a "colossal waste of money and display of authoritarianism." Benjamin's group, according to the Post, is among those planning protests for Trump's Thursday speech.
Anti-Trump protesters, including the group CodePink, are negotiating with Park Service officials over whether a massive "Trump Baby" balloon they want to fly will comply with flight restrictions that will be in place over the Mall during the Fourth.
But at least one protest is going forward: a group of senior citizens living at The Residences at Thomas Circle will hold a singalong at the same time as Trump’s speech, in a gathering they've dubbed, "Make Americans Friends Again."
Others raised concerns about the potential impact that the incredibly heavy military vehicles could have on D.C. roadways or the Mall, considering that when Trump's inaugural committee suggested incorporating war vehicles into his 2017 inaugural parade, military officials "shot down the request" because—as HuffPost reported at the time—"some were concerned about the optics of having tanks and missile launchers rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue. But they also worried that the tanks, which often weigh over 100,000 pounds, would destroy the roads."
Great. Trump wants YOU to pay for TANKS to damage MY city because he thinks it'll be good for AMERICA.
— Zack Ford (@ZackFord) July 1, 2019
In an article for Splinter Monday, Jack Crosbie sarcastically wrote: "Hell yeah, destroying D.C.'s infrastructure to own the libs. MAGA baby!!"
The use of government resources for the event also triggered alarm—especially considering that, as the Post noted, "National Park Service acting director P. Daniel Smith faces plenty of looming priorities this summer, from an $11 billion backlog in maintenance needs to natural disasters like the recent wildfire damage to Big Bend Park."
Coalition to Protect America's National Parks chair Phil Francis—whose group represents current, former, and retired Park Service employees and volunteers—told the Post in an email that "it's irresponsible to ask the National Park Service to absorb the costs of an additional and political event when there are so many unmet needs in the parks."
"The men and women of the National Park Service have been asked to do more with less for too long," Francis added. "Funds should be directed to the agency's highest needs such as operation of the parks and the maintenance backlog and should not be directed to support political objectives."