WASHINGTON — Americans gathered in Washington on Thursday as one nation, feeling a little divisible, struggling to maintain unity on the Fourth of July, a summer ritual that normally brings a day-long pause to partisan hostilities. But that was before President Donald Trump updated the day with his unique stamp — speaking of “one people chasing one dream and one magnificent destiny” from a Lincoln Memorial flanked by armored vehicles, with military jets passing overhead - his presence thrilling supporters, angering opponents and creating near-parallel celebrations of the country’s 243rd birthday.
On a sweltering, storm-tossed day, crowds were pulled in opposite directions on a polarized Mall, with “Make America Great Again” caps bedecking the throngs near the Lincoln Memorial and Baby Trump balloons bobbing in protest amid the masses gathered near the U.S. Capitol. Each side even had its own fireworks show largely invisible to the other, along with plenty of rhetorical firecrackers being tossed where the two sides mixed.
The holiday began as it typically does, with thousands streaming out of Metro stations and lining Constitution Avenue to watch a parade of fife and drum bands, Boy Scout troops and Miss District of Columbia. Amid heat warnings from the U.S. Park Police, the crowds migrated with their sunblock and water bottles and miniature flags to the National Mall. The “Capitol Fourth” fireworks show and National Symphony Orchestra concert is a summer ritual for many who live within driving distance.
Trump’s event, called “A Salute to America,” was modeled on a Bastille Day celebration with military trappings that captured the president’s imagination in 2017. Air Force One flew over the National Mall as Trump approached the podium, protected by rain-streaked bulletproof glass.
Scattered protests took place throughout the day. A flag-burning in front of the White House led to two arrests and a brief skirmish with onlookers, according to the Secret Service. The “Baby Trump” balloon — featuring a scowling caricature of the president in a diaper — was visible much of the day until it was taken down late in the afternoon because of high winds.
Rain and lightning swept over the National Mall more than once, causing many to take cover just before 4 p.m. Officials ordered an area near the Capitol temporarily evacuated about 90 minutes later. But the weather cleared enough for a series of flyovers by aircraft from each branch of the military, from Coast Guard helicopters to the Air Force’s B-2 stealth bomber and F-22 Raptors.
At the Lincoln Memorial, families wearing ponchos and MAGA hats chanted “USA! USA!” as the marble image of the nation’s 16th president loomed over the scene. They cheered the air show over the monuments, and the current president narrated each sortie with snippets of military history.
“Today, just as it did 243 years ago, the future of American freedom rests on the shoulders of men and women willing to defend it,” Trump said in introducing the roll call of airborne hardware.
Despite isolated clashes, public safety and transportation officials said the day went smoothly.
District Fire and Emergency Medical Services treated several people for heat-related ailments, but nobody suffered serious injuries, according to spokesman Vito Maggiolo. He said most of those treated had been at the parade on Constitution Avenue.