In the abstract, it might seem fitting for the president of the United States to deliver an address to the country as part of theFourth of July festivities in the nation’s capital. It is, after all, the country’s birthday; why shouldn’t the nation’s highest officeholder lead the celebration? There is even some precedent - with Ronald Reagan in 1987 at the Jefferson Memorial (on July 3, in point of fact) and Zachary Taylor in 1850 at the Washington Monument (though that didn’t turn out well; he reputedly ate a bowl of cherries and cold milk left in the hot sun and died after becoming ill in the following days). One can get happily lost imagining how George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy might have graced such an occasion.
Unfortunately, no imagination is needed to know what President Donald Trump might say, and that is one reason to worry about his plans to interject himself into the day’s events. According to an account by Washington Post reporters, he has “effectively taken charge” of planning for the District of Columbia celebration. The plans apparently include moving the giant fireworks display from its traditional spot on the National Mall to make room for Trump to give a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Unfortunately, Trump has had many opportunities to show that he could speak for and to the entire nation in such circumstances - and he has flunked each one. On his first full day in office, he politicized a visit to Central Intelligence Agency headquarters. He delivered a political speech at the National Scout Jamboree, of all places. He turned an overseas presidential visit to U.S. troops into just another campaign stop. He will hijack any event for partisan political purposes, or to stoke his ego, or both. The Fourth of July should be a time to remember what binds us as a country, not exploit what divides us.
There are practical concerns, too. The fireworks display on the National Mall and the free concert that precedes it attract hundreds of thousands of Americans annually. The National Park Service - coordinating with local officials, police and transit - has mastered the logistics. Time is running short to design a new plan, and accommodating a presidential appearance, and accompanying protests, means additional layers of security that will inconvenience those attending. Trump has spent previous Independence Days at the White House, hosting military families at a cookout. We would urge him to continue that fine tradition and allow Washington to celebrate a holiday that doesn’t need fixing.