After more than a year of life turned upside down, this Independence Day millions of Americans are looking forward to the first holiday since New Year’s 2020 that feels largely normal. But as Americans once again brave the inevitable traffic jams, lines at the grocery store, and blazing heat, one thing we won’t see this year is a sight that, over the past few years under President Donald Trump, had come to embody with the spirit of the holiday: the leader of the free world staging a huge, nationally televised extravaganza celebrating everything that makes America great.
As a candidate in 2016, Donald Trump promised to be a “cheerleader” for America. He sought to revitalize a sense of national pride that once unified Americans across racial, religious, and political lines. Perhaps more than any president before him, Trump genuinely strived to deliver on that promise, never passing up an opportunity to make Americans proud to be American.
And when it comes to positive, unifying, patriotic moments for the country, nothing in modern history quite compares to Donald Trump’s Fourth of July events—which were giant, flashy performances of the kind only Trump can deliver.
In 2019, President Trump’s “Salute to America” featured Trump standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, speaking to a humungous crowd on the National Mall. In an event that included numerous military flyovers mid-speech, and a large military band, Trump delivered rhetorical odes to America’s founders, America’s greatness, and each branch of the U.S. military.
“Together, we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told,” Trump said before the packed crowd. “It is the epic tale of a great nation whose people have risked everything for what they know is right, and what they know is true. It is the chronicle of brave citizens who never give up on the dream of a better and brighter future.”
Trump then went on to recount the founding story of the United States, tracing common threads of bravery, sacrifice, and a yearning for freedom that have defined Americans in every era. Just as a “righteous American spirit” drove the first patriots to fight for independence, he said that same spirit “forged our glorious Constitution… led the legendary explorers Lewis and Clark on their perilous expedition… led American patriots to abolish the evil of slavery, secure civil rights, and expand the blessings of liberty to all Americans… and keeps our nation thriving today.”
One year later, the country was facing the dual crises of the pandemic and rampant lawlessness in major cities. President Trump, ever the master of timing and pageantry, evidently recognized that the country desperately needed a rhetorical defense. Ignoring cries from the media to cancel the event over concerns about virus protocols, Trump traveled to South Dakota on July 3 and delivered one of the best speeches of his presidency before a brilliantly lit Mount Rushmore.
Trump offered a full-throated defense of American exceptionalism, and indeed an apologia for American history. “We gather tonight to herald the most important day in the history of nations” he said.
At a time when the left was launching a full-scale assault on American institutions, Trump asserted that “no nation has done more to advance the human condition than the United States of America, and no people have done more to promote human progress than the citizens of our great nation.” In what may have been his patriotic masterstroke, President Trump responded to the mobs tearing down statues by announcing a new “National Garden of American Heroes,” which was to be a massive sculpture garden featuring statues of the greatest Americans, figures such as George Washington, Clara Barton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Houston, and Vince Lombardi.
The following day, July 4, 2020, Trump revisited these themes speaking to a large audience on the South Lawn of the White House at the second “Salute to America” event. This time, the celebration featured cannon salutes, parachutists from the Army Golden Knights unveiling a giant, free-falling American flag during the national anthem, and dozens of military flyovers of aircraft from conflicts throughout American history—V-22 Ospreys, F-35 fighters, and even a thundering B2 bomber. It all culminated in what must have been one of the most breathtaking fireworks displays ever seen on the National Mall, directly over the Washington Monument.
Rather than give in to the woke mob and their radical push to remake the country, throughout his presidency Trump used the occasion of the Fourth of July as an opportunity to double down on defending traditional values and reaffirming American identity. At a time when many ordinary Americans felt silenced or ignored by the mainstream media narrative, Trump’s Fourth of July events were a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s Executive Order establishing the National Garden of American Heroes soon after taking office, and has shown no indication that he will continue Trump’s patriotic tradition of grandly celebrating America on the day of the nation’s founding. While Biden will be traveling to Michigan for an event on the Fourth of July, don’t expect any of the fireworks (literally or metaphorically) that characterized the holiday under Trump.
For now, we will just have to be grateful President Trump gave us all an example of what a truly American Independence Day celebration looks like.