A Most American 4th of July


Cousins are in town, so we braved the intermittent thunderstorms for the Trump-enhanced Independence Day celebrations on the Mall last night.

I must confess I owe both the President and probably my fellow Washingtonians something of an apology. I forgot what people are like and let the nattering nabobs of negativity propagandize me about what the event would be.

What I didn't fall for: the claim that no tank has ever rolled down the streets of Washington before and that the extravaganza proves the President is a Caesar who will never relinquish office.  Yawn. So said they about Clinton and Obama. And tanks on our streets? Many presidents have done it, and not just for a national celebration, but for their personal inaugurations. JFK had blooming Pershing Missiles, indeed a parade of missiles, at his inaugural.

What I did fall for: that the event had become so tainted by Trump that only his supporters would be there, along with "the resistance."  I had no stomach for a Trump rally on the nation's day, and I had some mild anxiety about taking kids to an event where antifa might show up to punch them because they are young and white and celebrating the Declaration of Independence, so therefore assumptions can be made! 

I forgot that people like fireworks, and you shouldn't listen to the kind of person who is too sophisticated for a parade in the first place.

WaPo, I see in a passing headline this morning, says yesterday's celebration thrilled supporters and angered critics. True as far as it goes, but it's a load of old tosh if they are suggesting that the only folks on the mall were Trump supporters. The crowd on the mall was the usual lot: Americans and DC tourists there for a good time and a show.

Yes, I've seen the twitter videos of folk burning flags outside the White House, but that was off-site and broke up by the time we arrived -- we saw some pinched-looking faces with sour signs heading into the Metro stop from the White House as we exited. And yes, there were protestors on the Mall. I'll get to them in a second.

But the surprisingly massive crowd (we almost bailed because of how hard the rain fell intermittently, and wondered if events would be called off) was thrilled because the air show was great fun.

I'll tell you the moment I gave over anxiety and was won over. We were yet a couple of blocks from the Mall and two planes appeared in the distance appearing to carry a ribbon between them. I thought that was strange and paused to get a look. And, lo, as the trio came into view, I realized the "ribbon" was a stealth fighter, making no noise, and suddenly appearing like an uncloaked Romulan Bird of Prey. My brother, who'd been having the same thought, called out, "Oh! It's a Stealth Fighter!" And everyone on the street  was captivated. Everyone looked up, everyone exclaimed with surprise, everyone tried to capture it on phones. It was fantastic, and I felt proud. (The photo is a later shot of approaching Blue Angels, I believe.)

On the Mall itself, we ended up in front of the World War II Memorial, and right near the space allotted for protestors to put up their Trump Baby balloon, and a big Trump on the Toilet effigy. I would say there about 30 resisters, all-told. Mostly (though not only) white Boomers, for what it's worth, and a multi-racial and multi-ethnic crowd treated them as tourist attractions and took pictures of them. The Trump Baby was a major selfie-magnet all afternoon.

Here's a few seconds of the most energetic protestors. Everyone looks up to enjoy the flyover. And then the shouts return: "Overcompensating! Overcompensating!"

The crowd, as I say, was genuinely and notably diverse. Lots of young people and families of every imaginable race and ethnicity (this really is a GREAT country in that respect). Our immediate neighbors on the grass were black, hispanic, Asian, Indian, Muslim. There was a lot of hijab on the Mall last night.

I wish my video of this cutie-pie had come out. She was dancing to all the festive marches being played
I'm not saying there weren't MAGA hats. There were (including a few on black and hispanic and even apparently near-Eastern heads). But I am quite certain the vast majority of people were there for completely a-political reasons. It was not a Trump support-fest, nor much of a protest. It was just the good ol' 4th of July, as ever.

In fact, the strong vibe I got from the crowd was the determination NOT to be politicized and NOT to be angry. The protestors were treated as part of the show. Practically everyone was wearing flag garb in some form. (Some of the young Muslim families had the women in hijab and jilbab, but the kids in flag t-shirts.) When John Stamos, leading the NSO concert from the West Wing of the Capitol, (which we could hear perfectly through speakers) urged the country to unite as friends, a cheer went up from the crowd. I sensed in that cheer a form of "resistance" that is inchoate and no one has taken into account because it's not partisan. When the national anthem began, everyone enthusiastically stood, most with hand over hearts. I looked around to see if people were kneeling, or if there was anyone restive about the anthem, and no, they were not. There were a lot of tourists and presumably immigrants in the crowd, so not everyone knew the words. But everyone was respectful, and many people were belting it out, as they did the other patriotic songs being played.

I didn't hear Trump's speech, but the twitterverse seemed to agree that he left himself out of it and really did just salute America. And he really did put on a great show. The flyovers were delightful and the fireworks display the absolute best I've ever seen. I felt, looking around at all the genuinely diverse young families, that America was receiving something it needed -- a moment to breathe unpoliticized air and sing the old patriotic hymns together. And also that somehow, underneath it all,  she is still managing to assimilate newcomers to herself. People still find her lovable and want to be here and be proud of being here and join in singing for God to shed his grace on her.

I always note around town that it's mostly African American men who sell the MAGA hats and t-shirts. I don't imagine that means they vote Trump, but they at least don't fear him enough to refuse to make a buck off his merchandise. As the crowd was dispersing, I couldn't help but note that one such fellow with a huge table full of items was doing brisk business, and everyone around the table was non-white.  I conclude nothing about how those people will vote -- I'm guessing many of them are tourists buying souvenirs and the act is apolitical. But I noted it because it suggests that the President is not toxic in the way elite opinion (and my Facebook page) makes him appear. He's just the U.S. President, another one who will come and go.

Obviously these are just impressions and intuitions, but I didn't get the vibe of people being on the Mall to own the libs or to make any point at all. I rather got the vibe that normal people of all colors and creeds don't inhabit the highly charged hate-your-neighbor world of the politician and the pundit and the twitter-verse. To the extent they are aware of that world at all (I asked myself how many of the people around me watch and respond to multiple cable news networks), they resist being told to be angry with each other or to hate the country's symbols. Normal people just like cool planes and fireworks and festive occasions, and they love their country (or find it normal that citizens of a country they are visiting do) and were out to enjoy these things, without much consideration for what anyone might say or think of them. In short, a completely wholesome, American evening, politics-free.