It was a triumph of low expectations.
Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” speech could have easily devolved into chants of “Lock her up!”—but instead he proved that he could, in fact, read a Teleprompter. And read he did. It was a speech that had all the excitement of an excerpt from one of Bill O’Reilly’s YA history books. It was middle-school story time from hell.
The problem is that not-so-insane Trump—much like his ultra-sanitized, faux-feminist daughter—doesn’t have the oratorical skills to stir a crowd without the crazy. The other problem is that when Trump tries to speak on American values he inadvertently highlights all the norms he’s crushed with his explosive rhetoric and banana republic-style presidenting.
There was the irony of the president with all the sexual assault allegations bringing up women’s suffrage. The strangeness of the president who called for the now-exonerated Central Park Five to get the death penalty bringing up the late Dr. Martin Luther King. And how about that name-check of Harriet Tubman, who was supposed to be on the $20 bill until Trump called the move to have her replace seventh president Andrew Jackson “pure political correctness.”
Perhaps the most bizarre moment of all? When the guy who managed to avoid the Vietnam draft five times told young Americans that they should “join our military and make a truly great statement in life. And you should do it.”
The stunning lack of self-awareness aside, it was a relief that the president stuck to the script, delivering a drone-like Ivanka-esque speech and not a scary Don Jr.-style speech; that he didn’t make the event more political than it already was; that he didn’t, you know, start a war.
That must have been a comfort to the generals. The day before, CNN had reported that military chiefs feared the July 4th celebration would devolve into a partisan rally. And they couldn’t have been reassured when Trump’s staunchest defender, Fox Business’ dystopian villain Lou Dobbs, rage-tweeted: “No wonder these Snowflake Generals haven’t won a war since 1991.”
Let’s be real, the whole thing was TOTALLY political. Look no further than the supposedly “free” fireworks on display. Phantom Fireworks donated $750,000 worth of fireworks on the very same day the president decided to forgo “$300 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, which include fireworks.” And of course nothing says bipartisanship like reserving VIP seating for GOP heavies and rewarding RNC donors with a view of the tanks.
Still, it was one of Trump’s least bonkers speeches. It didn’t encourage violence! He didn’t lead chants of “CNN sucks.” He didn’t talk about how much he loves Robert E. Lee. There were some gaffes—like his mention of airports during the war of 1812—but maybe that was just to let us know we weren’t in some alternate reality.
As he droned his way through history, with patriotic anthems filling the air and hand-picked loyalists sitting in attendance and military hardware on display, some commenters on social media said they were reminded of the spectacles North Korea puts on.
Only five days earlier, Trump had hung out in the DMZ with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, his favorite unhinged fascist dictator with a bowl cut. He seemed far more comfortable there than standing at the foot of a memorial to one of America’s greatest leaders, reading from a Teleprompter, spewing platitudes about all the things presidents are supposed to believe in.