President Donald Trump marked Independence Day by promising to defeat the “radical left” and boasting of his handling of the coronavirus, even as cases spike in the U.S.
Trump, speaking from the South Lawn of the White House, reprised themes from a speech he delivered in South Dakota the day before, by lashing out at those protesting statues of certain historical figures and other symbols they say celebrate racial injustice.
“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left: the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters and people who in many instances have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” Trump said, echoing remarks he gave at Mount Rushmore. “We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children or trample on our freedoms.”
Trump has spent weeks demonizing a movement to re-examine the racial record of historic figures after the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody. Those efforts have led to the removal, or calls for the removal, of statues, including Confederate generals and slave owners, from public and private facilities.
Trump, lagging in national polls ahead of the November election, used the event to rally his supporters by reciting what he says are some of his achievements, stoking cultural wars and blaming China for the spread of the coronavirus.
“China’s secrecy deceptions and cover up allowed it to spread all over the world,” Trump said in his 30-minute remarks. “China must be held fully accountable.”
Trump, who has come under widespread criticism for his handling of the coronavirus, said the U.S. is doing “unbelievably well” in finding remedies for the virus and is doing “deep testing” on vaccines. He praised the numbers of virus tests being administered in the U.S.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, our strategy has moved along well,” Trump said.
New coronavirus cases have set daily records in the U.S. recently while in Europe cases have fallen sharply in response to government-led measures to slow the spread.
Concern over the coronavirus pandemic caused many to stay away from the event, leaving the National Mall with a fraction of the audience that normally attends Washington’s annual fireworks display. New Covid-19 cases rose 1.7% in the U.S., surging in southern and western states, although cases have fallen off in the nation’s capital and surrounding areas.
Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, urged people to stay away from the evening’s events to avoid spreading the disease. Guests at the White House were asked to socially distance.
The president hosted military families and administration staffers at the White House, pulling back from the 2019 event held at the Lincoln Memorial.
Trump, with wife Melania, watched a flyover of vintage and modern military aircraft, including members of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. After leaving the event they returned to the White House balcony after sunset to witness a 35-minute fireworks display.
Trump has sought to revamp the annual Fourth of July celebration in the nation’s capital into a bigger spectacle, with a larger fireworks show and muscular display of military equipment, mirroring events like the annual Bastille Day parade in France.
At Mount Rushmore on Friday night the president portrayed a dark vision of a “new far-left fascism” seeking to erase the nation’s history.
Earlier this week the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said in a statement that all indications were that crowds gathering to watch the fireworks “will be much lighter than in past years.” For many years the fireworks show has been paired with a free concert on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
Bowser, who last year criticized Trump’s amped-up Independence Day event as self-serving and costly, encouraged city residents to steer clear.
“We of course know that the White House has already announced its plans, and the National Park Service will conduct the fireworks to celebrate the nation’s birthday,” Bowser said at a news conference last week. “We will continue to support those activities in the way that we have traditionally. But we hope that the crowds that come in non-pandemic years won’t materialize this year.”
The federal government said that a supply of at least 300,000 cloth face masks would be available and distributed to those attending the celebration on the National Mall. More than 100 hand-washing stations were available, and attendees were encouraged to stay at least six feet away from others.
White House officials defended the decision to hold Saturday’s event. Adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Wednesday that “we need to celebrate independence.”
“It’s really a day to celebrate our military and veterans,” Conway said.