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National Columnists

Tumulty: The brightest star this Fourth of July? Donald Trump. Oh, and the tanks.

When Donald Trump develops a fixation, he does not give it up easily.

Exactly one week before he was inaugurated in 2017, I interviewed him about the slogan that had defined his presidential campaign.

How, I asked him, did he plan to demonstrate that he had succeeded in his vow to “Make America Great Again”? How were this country’s citizens to measure something as value-laden as greatness?

“Because I’m going to tell them,” he replied.

Trump briefly mentioned bringing back jobs, strengthening the borders and improving health care. Then he grew more animated as he described an idea that had clearly ignited his showman’s imagination.

“We’re going to display our military,” he said. “We’re going to display it. The military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.”

Trump had to drop the parade idea, after Pentagon officials warned that it could cost as much as $92 million.

But his dream of a military spectacle will finally come to fruition on our nation’s 243rd birthday.

Some of it sounds, well, pretty great. There will be a flyover of military aircraft, including that instantly recognizable jetliner used as Air Force One, and a performance by the Navy’s elite Blue Angels team. I grew up an Air Force kid and love a good air show.

More unsettling is the president’s plan to have tanks in the streets – a dark and ominous image we normally associate with times of national emergency, or martial displays in authoritarian states such as Russia, North Korea and China.

Trump seems oddly taken with tanks. He has insisted on bringing them into downtown Washington, D.C., despite warnings that armored behemoths weighing more than 60 tons could make wreckage of the pavement and potentially damage the underground rooms of the Lincoln Memorial.

Then again, it’s not entirely clear he has thought this concept through, given his announcement that the Independence Day festivities will showcase “brand-new Sherman tanks,” a model that went out of service in 1957.

But the truth is, all of this hardware is merely the setting for a stage. The star of Trump’s “Salute to America” will be . . . Trump.

How do presidents normally spend the Fourth of July? Or perhaps that question should be: How do normal presidents spend the Fourth of July?

Mostly, the modern ones have kicked back like the rest of us do. The South Lawn of the White House is a particularly nice vantage point for the fireworks display over the Mall.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also marked the occasion by attending naturalization ceremonies.

“Throughout our history, the words of the declaration have inspired immigrants from around the world to set sail to our shores,” Bush said at the one he attended in 2008 at Monticello. “These immigrants have helped transform 13 small colonies into a great and growing nation.”

Great. There it was. That word again. And nary a tank in sight.

• Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics. She joined The Post in 2010 from Time magazine and has also worked at the Los Angeles Times.

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