President Trump hailed America's military and declared that "our nation is stronger today than it ever was before" in a Fourth of July speech with patriotic themes underscored by flyovers from fighter jets and displays of tanks near the stage at the Lincoln Memorial.
Washington observers were watching to see whether Trump would take the highly publicized speech into politics, but instead, the president highlighted heroic military tales and implored Americans to "stay true to our cause."
"For over 65 years, no enemy Air Force has managed to kill a single American soldier. Because the skies belong to the United States of America," Trump proclaimed, speaking behind rain-spattered glass.
Trump's "Salute to America" program made him the first U.S. president in nearly seven decades to make a Fourth of July address at the National Mall. In 1951, President Harry Truman spoke on the National Mall on July Fourth to mark the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Before the ceremony, Trump had played down the cost of orchestrating the event, expected to be in the millions, and dismissed critics who chided the president for putting himself at the center of an event at the Lincoln Memorial, a national monument to American unity.
The weather for Trump's speech was turbulent with scattered showers and thunderstorms.
Speaking to the soggy crowd, Trump spent most of his speech paying tribute in lofty terms to each branch of the military.
"We will always be the people who defeated a tyrant, crossed a continent, harnessed science, took to the skies, and soared into the heavens," Trump said. "We are one people, chasing one dream, and one magnificent destiny."
Although Trump did not attack Democrats or go off script, which he regularly does at press briefings and campaign events, the crowd brought a political element to the event. Many people wore "Make America Great Again" hats and other pro-Trump displays. At several points, the crowd played off the president's patriotic messages by breaking out with chants of "USA, USA."
Ever since Trump visited France's Bastille Day celebration in 2017, watching scores of soldiers and military tanks move down Paris' famed Champs-Élysées, he has wanted to bring a similar spectacle to the U.S.
And on Thursday, Trump got his wish.
Throughout downtown Washington, armored Humvees and other military vehicles dotted corners around commercial corridors, unusual even on Independence Day. While critics of the president mocked the military presence as a vulgar display of the country's military might, others attendees, like Robert Aguilar, who is in the Navy, appreciated having armored vehicles in the city.
"I'm all for it," Aguilar said. "The number of Americans who serve in the military is small, and I think our country should be aware about the people doing this country's business and protecting the country."
The president's opponents were not dazzled by the militaristic display. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, criticized the cost of the event and said the military trappings are too reminiscent of authoritarian regimes.
"Trump's militarized Mall has the feeling of Red Square and Pyongyang," said Benjamin, adding that Trump used the Fourth of July "for his personal use" at "huge expense."
Leading up to the speech, sporadic protests happened throughout Washington, including a flag burning in front of the White House. Other protesters inflated a 20-foot balloon depicting Trump as an angry baby wearing a diaper.
Two people were arrested in connection with the flag burning, according to a spokesperson for the Secret Service, who said two Secret Service officers sustained minor injuries while attempting to make arrests.