WASHINGTON – On a day meant for unity and celebration, President Donald Trump vowed to "safeguard our values" from enemies within – leftists, looters, agitators, he said — in a July 4th speech packed with all the grievances and combativeness of his political rallies.
Trump watched paratroopers float to the ground in a tribute to America, greeted his audience of front-line medical workers and others central in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and opened up on those who disrespect the country's past.
"We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing," he said. "We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children.
"And we will protect and preserve [the] American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America."
He did not mention the dead from the pandemic. Nearly 130,000 are known to have died from COVID-19 in the U.S.
Even as officials across the country pleaded with Americans to curb their enthusiasm for large crowds, Trump enticed the masses with a "special evening" of tribute and fireworks staged with new U.S. coronavirus infections on the rise. Florida on Saturday set another daily record for new infections, reporting 11,458 confirmed cases.
But the crowds wandering the National Mall for the night's air show and fireworks were strikingly thinner than last year. Many who showed up wore masks, unlike those seated close together for Trump's South Lawn event, and distancing was easy to do for those scattered across the sprawling space.
Trump did not hesitate to use the country's birthday as an occasion to assail segments of the country that do not support him. Carrying on a theme he pounded on a day earlier against the backdrop of Mount Rushmore, he went after those who have torn down statues or think some of them, particularly those of Confederate figures, should be removed. .
"Our past is not a burden to be cast away," Trump said.
Outside the event but as close to it as they could get, Pat Lee of Upper Dublin, Pa., gathered with two friends, one of them a nurse from Fredericksburg, Va., whose only head gear was a MAGA hat.
"POTUS said it would go away," Lee said of the pandemic, using an acronym for president of the United States. "Masks, I think, are like a hoax." But she said she wore one inside the Trump International Hotel, where she stayed.
By the World War II Memorial, the National Park Service handed out packets of five white cloth masks to all who wanted them. People were not required to wear them.
Another nurse, Zippy Watt from Riverside, Calif., came to see the air show and fireworks with her husband and their two daughters, one of whom lives in Washington. They wore matching U.S. flag face masks even when seated together on a park bench.
"We chose to wear a mask to protect ourselves and others," Watt said. She said her family was divided on Trump but she is "more of a Trump supporter. Being from Southern California I see socialist tendencies. I'm tired of paying taxes so others can stay home."
Even as Trump pushed ahead with celebrations, the shadow of the coronavirus loomed closer to him. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fundraiser for the president and girlfriend of his oldest child, Donald Trump Jr., has tested positive for the virus, Trump's campaign said late Friday. Guilfoyle tweeted Saturday that she was looking forward to "a speedy recovery."