President Donald Trump is planning to overhaul the annual Fourth of July celebration in Washington, reshaping the annual nonpartisan event into his image—that is, a giant partisan spectacle. The president has longed for a parade through the capital displaying American military might since he attended France’s Bastille Day festivities in 2017. While Trump’s previous efforts to stage his own military parade have failed, he might be getting what he wants this week.
This year’s National Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue will include marching bands, a fife and drum corps, floats, giant balloons, drill teams, and military units. The traditional “A Capitol Fourth” on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol later in the evening will be hosted by John Stamos and feature fireworks and musical performances from the likes of Carole King and Vanessa Williams. That’s all pretty standard.
But unlike previous Independence Day celebrations, Trump’s sideshow—branded by the president as “Salute to America”—will essentially double as a campaign rally. (Past presidents have avoided the festivities, instead leaving town or hosting small events at the White House.) Trump will speak at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday evening to honor “our nation’s independence, our flag and our great military,” according to HuffPost. Officials, who swear the speech won’t be political, also announced a VIP section in front of the Lincoln Memorial, with the White House handling ticket distribution. The Republican National Committee is also handing out VIP spots to donors.
The spectacle doesn’t end there. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said last month that military jets will fly over the Mall during Trump’s speech, which runs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. That flyover will likely include the Boeing 747 used as Air Force One and the Navy’s Blue Angels, as well as F-35s and the Marine One helicopter squadron. Trump has also requested Abrams tanks and other armored military vehicles on the Mall for his planned address. While officials were concerned about the damage the tanks could cause to the streets and the Mall, they began arriving in Washington on Tuesday. A single tank can weigh more than 60 tons, and the roads in Washington—already in rough shape—are designed only to carry a weight of just over 30 tons. The tanks won’t participate in a parade but instead will be stationed in a “static display” on the Mall.
Such a show of force, while not unprecedented, could cost millions, and critics have compared it to events hosted by dictators in North Korea and the Soviet Union. Washington’s last military parade—which celebrated the end of Operation Desert Storm—damaged the heavily Democratic city’s roads and public art and left 1.2 million pounds of garbage along with $12 million in bills. The Washington Post reports that a single hour of Air Force One flight time costs $140,000, each Blue Angel jet costs $10,000 per hour to fly, and an F-35 costs $30,000 per hour. And a White House aide said the preliminary cost of simply transporting the M1A1 Abrams tanks from Georgia to Washington is $870,000. Officials haven’t released any cost estimates for the event. Trump canceled his planned Veterans Day parade last year, largely due to its $92 million price tag and opposition from the American Legion.
The fireworks show will be bigger than usual too. Donors pledged an additional $750,000 of fireworks, equipment, and personnel on top of the $270,000 typically spent on the display. Organizers say this year’s show will be twice as long, coming in at about 35 minutes.
Officials have already had to adjust plans to make accommodations for Trump’s appearance at the event. The launching point for the fireworks show had to be moved from the Reflecting Pool to West Potomac Park. Runways at Ronald Reagan National Airport will be closed for 75 minutes during Trump’s flyover and the fireworks. Perhaps least shocking of all, organizers are still scrambling to iron out the details of the event with just a few days before the Fourth.