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‘Are you proud to be an American?’ Why Trump’s 4th of July was a tale of three different celebrations

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/5/2019 Christal Hayes, Sarah Elbeshbishi, Max Cohen, Elizabeth Lawrence, Olivia Sanchez and Jason Lalijee
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WASHINGTON – Fourth of July festivities in the nation's capital were anything but typical this year. It wasn't just the military tanks, jet flyovers or the speech by President Donald Trump

The president's role in what is usually a nonpartisan celebration created what felt like three different events: Protesters who decried his administration and its policies; a campaign rally where supporters cheered for him to keep the White House for another term; and those who simply wanted to enjoy hot dogs and fireworks with their families for the annual Independence Day festivities.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc.

On a holiday marking America's birthday, the country's divisions were on full display.

There was a giant blimp depicting the president as an orange infant. There was also a sea of red, "Make America Great Again" hats. And there were families spread out along the National Mall with blankets and children anxiously awaiting the fireworks display and not focused on politics. 

When the protesters and Trump supporters clashed over a flag burning in front of the White House, there were two arrests, although most confrontations did not go beyond shouting matches. 

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Trump supporters line parade route 

Gallery by photo services

Trump's influence on the annual celebrations were easy to spot.

Supporters poured into the National Mall throughout the day, many waving "Trump 2020" flags or wearing "MAGA" hats. They passed by the heckling of protesters with disgust, some yelling "SNOWFLAKES!" to the crowds gathered in opposition of Trump. 

In the afternoon at the National Independence Day Parade parade, thousands of people lined the streets of Washington to watch floats, drum lines and military units march by. As the parade marched on, the heat did too. Spectators migrated towards the shade, picking up ice-cold bottles of water from vendors, to watch the parade. 

Hundreds of Trump supporters were part of the crowd that lined Constitution Avenue.

Trump’s new campaign slogan, ‘Keep America Great,’ also filled the surrounding streets of the parade. Vendor stands at nearly every corner pushed Trump hats and paraphernalia on energetic supporters. 

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Jim Sutton usually attends the parade each year with his wife, Gigi. But the couple, who sported head-to-toe Trump gear, said something felt different this year. 

“It’s just fantastic,” Gigi Sutton said, in her white Trump T-shirt and flag pants. The pair said the criticism of Trump’s use of military equipment in the event was unwarranted. 

“We’ve been having all these problems with Iran, North Korea. This says something,” Gigi Sutton said. Her husband chimed in, “It let’s the world know our nation’s defense is well at hand.”

After watching Trump's speech and the military aircraft flyovers for each branch of the military, Amiee LeDoux was left in tears.

"That was the first time I ever cried during the Fourth of July," LeDoux, who traveled with her family from New Hampshire, said as she started to tear up again. "I just felt like it really embraced who we are and it just felt like God was really honored, and America was honored and the military was honored."

Wearing a blue Trump hat, LeDoux said she thought Trump's speech helped bring the country together. 

"I think there was a lot of unity and the mentioning of our history and how rich of a history we have, it was just so beautiful," she said. 

Blimps, toilet robots, burning flags

While the event was mostly peaceful, a fight broke out at a flag burning event in front of the White House that led to at least two arrests. 

Trump supporters, some wearing hats emblazoned with Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, charged a circle of protesters who were burning a flag, causing the protesters to topple over. The Trump supporters, some of whom were wearing attire identifying themselves as Proud Boys, a far-right organization, attempted to stamp out the fire. 

But the flag burning was far from the only act of protest happening in the heart of Washington. Many wore shirts about impeaching Trump or supporting Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic rival in the 2016 election. They carried balloons depicting Trump as a small, orange baby — a miniature depiction of a famous blimp that was briefly inflated on the National Mall. 

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Along with the Baby Trump blimp, the liberal activist organization Code Pink also parked a 16-foot-tall "Dumping Trump" robot featuring the president sitting on a golden toilet wearing a MAGA-style hat saying "Make America Great Again: Impeach Me."

The robot sporadically shouted out some of Trump’s most-used lines, including “no collusion” and “witch hunt.”

Nearby, Noel Eldridge gathered with the nearly 100 protesters, holding a sign plastered with photographs of migrant detention centers. It read "Are you proud to be American? Today?"

Eldridge said he grew up in the same New York neighborhood as Trump. "I know the particular kind of bully and racist he is," Eldridge said.

Just yards away, a miniature baby Trump balloon was locked inside of a metal cage. Linda Berns said she has traveled from her home in Bethesda, Md. each year for 40 years to watch the fireworks along the National Mall. This year, she came to protest.

She said she joined the protest against Trump’s immigration policies because of her family’s history. "This is a country of immigrants," Berns said. "My grandparents were immigrants."

Anne and Emily Balderson, both waving mini-Trump-baby balloons, came to D.C. from Texas to experience the holiday in the capital but said Trump role in the event was unnecessary and causing more division in the country. 

"I think it’s making 4th of July more of a divisive holiday," Emily Balderson said. "He’s making it about himself instead of the country and it should just be about how our country was founded."

An apolitical event for families 

At the opposite end of the National Mall, near the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument, things were different. There were no protests. Scarcely anyone wore Trump attire. 

Instead, families, wearing red, white and blue, sat on blankets, held up small American flags and enjoyed the music from the "A Capitol Fourth” concert. 

After the last of the military jets flew over the crowd and many left, families were left camped out on picnic blankets, and kids huddled together under umbrellas eager to watch the fireworks display. Some came more prepared than others, with plastic bags to put under their blankets and rain ponchos with hoods. 

David Portis was among those camped out. He said there were remarkably fewer people along the Mall than he remembered in past years, which he blamed on the rain and not the additions to the program.

Portis said he was neutral on Trump’s presence during the holiday. "I even brought my daughter and her friend," he said, pointing to an open grassy area near the Washington Monument where a group of children were playing ball barefooted.

Others also weren't preoccupied by the politics thrust into the event. 

Mitchell Reed, the band director for a group of 99 Florida high school students who attended the concert and played during a parade earlier in the day, said the event took on a different meaning for his group. 

"It’s been crazy," he said as he watched the nearby concert. "But it’s a day everyone in our band will never forget."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘Are you proud to be an American?’ Why Trump’s 4th of July was a tale of three different celebrations

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