The Trump July 4th extravaganza is not what many expected

Trump's "Salute to America" Surprises Many Protestors

By David Eisen

July 5, 2019

President Donald J. Trump’s “Salute to America” on July 4 was supposed to be a bust. Rain, heat, humidity and perceived unpopularity of the president were supposed to keep the crowds away. Yet, the only way that this reporter could get a ticket was from a Democratic Party scalper.

“Yes. Due to high demand, I am now selling them for $50 each.  Let me know if you want them,” the Democratic congressional staffer said via email.

There were three ways to enter the “Salute to America.”  The first was as a ticketed guest, including VIPs, congressional Staff, and the thousands of others on a list somewhere.  The second was through Press Passes.  The third was through General Admission — and these tickets were being sold way above market. Clearly, demand was driving up ticket prices.

Daria Eisen, this reporter’s mother, cited a Newsweek article saying that the White House was having trouble giving out tickets.  In reality, the tickets were all gone.

On Craigslist, this reporter found the  Democratic Congressional staffer selling tickets. (His government position was confirmed through LinkedIn, though he asked for anonymity given his side hustle selling tickets.)  At 11:30 am on July 4,  he turned over two Navy Blue passes, the equivalent of a middle tier ticket, at a cost of $100.

In an Uber to the National Mall, this reporter scanned Twitter. @Nightly Politics,  a tweet showed empty seats with the comment “Overflowing Crowds at Trump’s ‘Parade’.”  Daria Eisen again asked if this reporter paid too much for the tickets. The social-media snark and advance press coverage would prove to be completely at odds with the reality experienced by this reporter on the ground.

Arriving just before the National Park Service closed admission at six pm, light rain fell on the long lines of people waiting to get in.  Walking five blocks past roadblocks and rope lines, we realized that our tickets were not just, in the words of the Democratic scalper, “in demand,” but likely oversold.

At the A & B Ticketed Entrance, the line stretched for five city blocks.  The remnants of the storm roiled overhead, Daria Eisen began to complain of getting her hair wet. There were at least 40 security lines open, but security was tight.  Umbrellas, lighters, alcohol and much more were banned — much more stringent requirements than TSA airport security.

Snaking past the Lincoln Memorial, we waded into the crowd. As we approached the towering Washington Monument, the Park Service split all four ticket types by color. Yellow and Light Blue meant the “VIP” area. Dark Blue indicated an area along the mall.  After almost one mile of walking, Daria Eisen’s knee was hurting. Seeking refuge near a vendor selling ice cream, bottled water, and Gatorade, this reporter surveyed the crowd.  One-third was wearing Trump gear, another third sported summer clothes, and the remainder, surprisingly, wore anti-Trump shirts.  But we heard no one talking politics.

With our designated “dark blue” area filling up, event staffers waved us into the coveted Light Blue VIP area.  A clear view of the tanks and the president.

First came Vice President Mike Pence, followed by President Donald J. Trump. Their arrival was no surprise. The jumbotrons showed a live video feed of the presidential motorcade departing the White House and arriving, stage left, beside a bevy of Secret Service.

As the sweat and rain, or mixture of both, dripped down this reporter’s back, and those surrounding him, everyone seemed to be in jovial spirits.  Talking to members of the crowd, many identified themselves as interns, suburban families, retirees and other swatches of America.  Daria Eisen, being a quilter, noticed a man laying out a blanket with sandwiches. She went to take a picture and learned he was a veteran from Ohio.  He had brought his whole family, including three teenagers.

As the President walked out on to stage, the crowd chanted “USA, USA, USA!”  As the president approached the podium, Air Force One roared directly overhead, suddenly massive and then gone, leaving only its thunder.

President Trump began his speech about all that our veterans fought for, beginning with the Revolutionary War, and ending with the defeat of ISIS in Syria.  It was both a history lesson, and a lesson in valor.  Afterward, he began to introduce the VIPs that were seated on the stage next to him, shockingly many seemed surprised he called them out.  Those termed VIP were not quite what you would expect a VIP to look like.  It was comprised of Americans who had gone above and beyond their call of duty as a citizen.  A doctor who helped to make Leukemia surviviable for 90 percent of children, a Catholic Charities nun who had administered first-aid to wounded Americans at Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks in New York, a civil rights activist who participated in the Woolworth Sit-In to end segregated lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a grandmother who made more than 500 meals for hurricane victims.  Daria softly cried, as she commonly does through every movie that she likes. She wasn’t the only one. The crowd cried or cheered as each person was announced.

A young African-American man in a hoodie experienced some form of a medical emergency. As the crowd held him up, the D.C. Fire department, and Secret Service swept to his side.  The crowd parted quickly, making a pathway for medical assistance.

Trump then proceeded to call up the Acting-Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford.  With these officials standing by, the president recited the heroic history of the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps and, finally, the U.S. Army. The announcement of each military branch was accompanied by a flyover, including an F-22 fighter jet, A V-22 Osprey and a stealth bomber.

The finale came with the blue angels.  As the U.S. Army Band played “Proud to be an American,” the blue angels did a formation over the mall and disappeared.  Only to come back for the grand finale, at the surprise of everyone, five jets flying their characteristic fan formation over the Lincoln Memorial, at the peak of the song.  The crowd went wild. Daria started crying again. Everyone seemed happy.

Interestingly, the “Salute to America” was devoid of the politics usually seen at Trump Rallies.  Gone were the cries to “Lock Her Up,” theverbal attacks on the “fake news” press. Instead, the president offered a hopeful and heroic accounting of American history’s brightest spots– from flying the first plane at Kitty Hawk, N.C. to landing on the Moon in July 1969.

While many seemed dressed for a political occasion on both sides, no one seemed to actually engage.  The debate about the worthiness of the event had dissipated. Many people told this reporter that they would like to see the same event every year, regardless of party politics, and regardless of the president in office.

As the president left, they announced all could stay and watch the fireworks, with no restrictions on movement around the areas.

Like many, we decided to head home and ended up watching the fireworks from the shoulder of a highway overpass near the Pentagon.   The show lasted twice as long as in previous years and was donated by a fireworks company — saving the taxpayers some $750,000 and delivering a much longer show.

Daria said this was “possibly one of the best nights of her life.” The “Salute to America” was a unique unifier that many did not expect, especially from a supposedly polarizing figure like Donald Trump.