Speaking before a spirited Fourth of July crowd dotted with red “Make America Great Again” caps near the iconic Lincoln Memorial, President Trump celebrated America in his own indomitable, self-styled way, acknowledging great moments in our past while offering a history of the armed forces above all else. Gracing the occasion was evidence of America’s military might. Historians will long debate whether the president politicized this event, though to his credit he stayed on message and avoided cheap shots at Democrats and the news media. Maybe truck driver Jason Cullins of Lafayette, Louisiana, waving a “Trump 2020” flag, put it best to the New York Times amidst all the revelry: “There’s always a show in Washington, D.C., so I had to make a stop. You have everybody here. You have anti-Trump people, which I don’t agree with, but, by God, that’s what makes America great. We have freedom of speech. I have no problem with them.”
Not all proved so generous, including national security expert Philip Mudd, who exploded at the president’s Fourth of July display in what strikes us as bipartisan outrage: “I did national security. I thought [this day] was about ideals and now we’ve made it about the military. That’s not what the Founding Fathers gave us. They gave us the gift of ideals. And on a personal level, excuse me, but now we have the Super Bowl invaded by politics, players are kneeling; the Women’s World Cup is invaded by politics and a dispute about whether the women will go to the White House; we have a stupid dispute over politics this week about whether Nike puts a flag on a shoe. Can we have a day with hamburgers, hot dogs and a few beers without a politician? Please! One day? And now we can’t because we got politicians saying, ‘Let’s celebrate guns and aircraft and forget about the Founding Fathers,’ who talked about being cautious with a standing military.”
How about a balance between these sentiments? Some of us who listened to the president’s speech know full well that politicians of all stripes simply can’t resist paying public tribute to the military because, while they might be earnest, they also know it’s an easy applause line. Those of us long in the news profession understand the sentiments of military leaders voicing deep reservations about politicians’ growing penchant for using our military as political props. That’s what we heard in the president’s speech — innocuous, yes, but well short of what the Fourth is really about. And any speech at the Lincoln Memorial should have better stressed the most famous presidential message — the Gettysburg Address, which promised us all a “new birth of freedom,” secured through the almighty 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Even now many seek to undermine these amendments.
All things considered, perhaps the best of the Fourth could be found along the Brazos Thursday evening as Americans of all races, faiths and political stripes enjoyed music, hot dogs, fireworks and fellowship. Only a few aired their politics — we saw one “Trump 2020” T-shirt, plus another that read “They hate U.S. because they ain’t U.S.” For most, it was a day to share common pleasures and common rights — and leave all the fightin’ about the particulars for another time and place.