With US fighter jets flying overhead, President Donald Trump praised the military on Thursday (July 4) in a flashy celebration of Independence Day.
In a departure from the majority of his speeches, Trump steered clear of divisive political rhetoric and emphasized national unity.
With critics afraid that he was politicizing the celebrations by speaking at the Lincoln Memorial, Trump didn’t mention his re-election campaign or political opponents at all - although he did claim that America is now stronger than ever.
"Our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now," Trump said.
At times, an enthusiastic crowd could be heard chanting: "USA! USA! USA!"
Trump, 73, praised American military might despite having himself avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. With well-planned choreography, he told stories about each military branch before separate, dramatic flyovers of their respective military aircraft.
"We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flag: the brave men and women of the United States military," Trump said.
"For over 65 years, no enemy air force has managed to kill a single American soldier. Because the skies belong to the United States of America."
Not all the choreography appeared to go off as planned.
A flyover by Air Force One, which Trump had teased earlier in the day on Twitter, occurred unannounced and without fanfare.
But a low and spectacular flyover by six F-18s known as the "Blue Angels" at the conclusion of Trump's speech thrilled the crowd. Some people shouted "Four More Years!" in support of the president.
Democrats weigh in with criticism
Republican political groups were given prime tickets for Trump's speech, and the Washington Post reported that the US National Park Service diverted $2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders weighed in with criticism: "40 million Americans live in poverty. 500,000 people will sleep on the street tonight. 34 million people don’t have health insurance. I, for one, don’t think we should be spending tens of millions of dollars driving tanks through downtown D.C.," he wrote in a tweet.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, leading in opinion polls in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in Iowa: "Donald Trump, I believe, is incapable of celebrating what makes America great, because I don't think he gets it."
Trump played down the expense. "The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel," he posted on Twitter on Wednesday. "We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!" Andrews is the name of a nearby military base.
The July 4th holiday celebrates the US founders' declaring independence from Britain in 1776.