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'Show of a Lifetime' or Campaign Event? President's 4th of July Celebration Spurs Debate

07-04-2019
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President Trump is promising the "show of a lifetime" for this year's Fourth of July celebration in the nation's capital but his critics say he's turning America's birthday into a campaign event.

The president is calling the celebration a "Salute to America" and taking the annual celebration to a new level.

Traditionally, Washington, D.C. celebrates the 4th of July with a parade along Constitution Avenue, a National Symphony Orchestra concert on the Capitol lawn and fireworks near the Washington Monument.

This year, the president is summoning tanks and warplanes, moving the fireworks closer to the Lincoln Memorial and including a speech of his own. It will mark the first time the president has given a speech on Independence day since Harry Truman addressed the nation during the Korean War. 

The White House says the speech will be patriotic and notes that the event is free but it has also given VIP tickets to the Republican National Committee and top donors.

The president conceived the idea two years ago while watching a two-hour procession of French military tanks and fighter jets during a Bastille Day celebration in Paris. He moved forward with a similar plan until cost estimates exceeding $90 million forced him to scale back to the current event.

The Salute to America features Bradley fighting vehicles, two 60-ton Army Abrams battle tanks, and flyovers by Air Force B-2 stealth bombers and Navy F-3 and F-18 fighter jets plus the Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team, Army and Coast Guard helicopters, Marine V22 Ospreys and Air Force One and Marine One aircraft.

Washington, D.C. tourist Brent Hoban said "I think it's exciting. I think it's good for the patriotism of the country."

Critics warn that the event could become political, especially if the president's address sounds like a campaign speech and they say the emphasis on the military is inappropriate.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Marine Corps officer Seth Moulton said on the campaign trail that he opposes the event.

"It reminds me of the Soviet Union. It's unpatriotic because militarism is not what American patriotism is about," said Moulton

The president's critics also say they're worried about cost. ABC News reports that the National Parks Service is diverting $2.5 million from improvement projects to pay for the event. 

The Air Force says it costs $122,311 an hour to fly a B-2 bomber--but that the flight will be considered a training event with the cost already budgeted.

The president tweeted Wednesday that the price tag "will be very little compared to what it is worth." He noted that two companies donated the fireworks and said "we own the planes. We have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all."

For many Americans across the country, however, this 4th of July will mean travel and food--thanks to low gas prices, low unemployment and robust consumer spending.

AAA predicts a record 49 million Americans will travel this weekend, more than 4% than last year. That includes 41 million who will drive. 

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend $6.7 billion on food.

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