President Donald Trump has promised the United States would soon again send men to the moon, and go beyond to “plant the American flag on Mars.”
He made the promise Thursday in a rousing speech marking the 243rd July 4 Independence anniversary.
He sang the praises of the US military and American heroes of the past two and a half centuries, skirting politics as expected by critics.
“What a great country,” Trump exclaimed in an address saturated with patriotism and exceptionalism, after critics accused him of hijacking the annual celebration.
“For Americans, nothing is impossible,” he said.
Combat aircraft, including the rarely-seen B2 stealth bomber, flew overhead as Trump scrolled through myriad events of US history, from groundbreaking inventions to battlefield victories. He drew cheers of “USA! USA!” from an enthusiastic rain-soaked audience of tens of thousands on the National Mall in Washington.
“We will always be the people who defeated a tyrant, crossed a continent, harnessed science, took to the skies, and soared into the heavens, because we will never forget that we are Americans, and the future belongs to us.”
Trump spoke in front of a massive statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln, the heroic 19th century president, where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
Trump used the traditionally politics-free holiday to deliver shoutouts to each arm of the military, as well as singling out first responders and the controversial Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies that have been criticised for their treatment of migrants.
But he disappointed critics who had warned that Trump, the first president in decades to make a keynote speech on the July 4 holiday, was hijacking the celebration to bolster his own political standing and attack Democratic rivals.
Instead, in a trickling rain, he uncharacteristically avoided talking about himself and his political detractors. He repeatedly ascribed a singular greatness to the country, declaring it “the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.”
“Today, we come together as one nation with this very special Salute to America. We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flag — the brave men and women of the United States military!” he said.
“Our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now,” he said.
The July 4 celebrations usually draw hundreds of thousands of people to the National Mall for picnics and twilight fireworks, and dousings from thunderstorms did not keep away either Trump’s supporters — wearing red caps — nor protesters.