On the eve of what’s gearing up to be the most divisive Fourth of July since James G. Watt split the country into Beach Boys fans and haters back in ’83 (party of one, Mr. Watt?), President Donald Trump is proclaiming that the cost of his Salute to America event “will be very little compared to what it is worth.”
But no one can agree on the cost, much less the worth. About $2.5 million in funds are being diverted from National Park Service fees, according to The Washington Post, but that figure apparently doesn’t include the cost of the aerial flyovers or military equipment. Despite Trump’s boast today that “We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door,” estimates will no doubt continue to vary throughout the event as to the actual total cost. The military-focused website military.com reports today that a similar event in 1991 celebrating the Gulf War victory cost between $8 million and $12 million, the equivalent of $15 million to $22 million today. And yes, we owned the planes, tanks and had the pilots back then, too.
Today, Minnesota Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum threatened to launch an investigation into the diversion of the National Park fees.
But at least the fireworks are free, right? Trump tweeted that the fireworks would be donated by “two of the greats” – with Phantom Fireworks of Youngstown, Ohio, donating the material and the famous Grucci of Long Island, N.Y., doing the engineering and choreography. Fortunately, Trump already knew Phantom Fireworks CEO Bruce Zoldan – the Youngstown Vindicator newspaper reported last month that Zoldan met with Trump – at the White House request – to discuss removing fireworks from the list of Chinese goods that could face a 25% tariff. The president did not make a commitment, Zoldan told the Vindicator on May 28.
Exactly who will be on hand to witness Trump’s Salute remained a bit sketchy as well. (To read about television coverage, go here.) A roped-off area in front of the Lincoln Memorial will serve as a VIP section, with at least some of the free tickets handed out by the Republican National Committee to donors and Trump backers. Five thousand tickets were provided to the Department of Defense, while the original number of 1,000 invited troops had been reduced to 300, according to The New York Times. That includes “about a dozen who were ordered to build a platform for the tanks to keep from damaging the ground beneath,” The Times reported. (It’ll be a long day for some of the troops – some of whom will be around to disassemble the tank stands and clean up the site at 2 a.m. Friday).
As for the upper ranks, the Pentagon said today that acting Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would join the president, while The Times reports that “Many other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and service secretaries, however, had planned leaves or were on official travel, and were sending deputies in their place.”
And despite White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s admonition to reporters – “I’m not going to allow you to politicize it” – the Salute has drawn fierce (and getting fiercer) backlash for its transformation of a non-partisan day of celebration, music and fireworks into what critics are calling a thinly veiled campaign rally and fundraiser with heavy militaristic overtones. The real fireworks haven’t begun, and this is what Twitter looks like already:
The View‘s Meghan McCain retweeted:
And the tweet that set the early standard: