Trump girds for July 4 bash starring himself
President Donald Trump. (AFP / MANDEL NGAN)

President Donald Trump prepared Thursday to host an Independence Day show like no other, featuring a speech from the Lincoln Memorial, a display of military tanks and jets roaring over Washington in what critics deride as a tax-payer-funded exercise in glorifying himself.

The July 4 holiday is widely celebrated as a patriotic but apolitical and non-partisan homage to America's founding, and presidents usually stay out of the limelight or even leave town for the day.

But Trump, the tradition-shattering former real estate mogul seeking re-election next year, will break with another norm: He will deliver a speech at the storied steps of the Lincoln Memorial, from a stage draped in red, white and blue.

The affair is being billed at least in part as a tribute to the US military, although critics charge that Trump is using the military as a prop for political gain. News reports say even some military chiefs have chafed at what they see as the event's politicization.

Although the show is open to the public, the section directly in front of Trump is reserved for VIP Republican donors and allies, as well as top military brass.

All eyes are on whether Trump will stay on script or stray into his default mode of attacking political opponents in a hastily organized event that the administration is calling "Salute to America."

In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump promised an event bordering on epic.

"People are coming from far and wide to join us today and tonight for what is turning out to be one of the biggest celebrations in the history of our Country," Trump wrote.

Besides the jet flyover, he said, "Perhaps even Aircraft One will do a low & loud sprint over the crowd."

"I will speak on behalf of our great Country!" Trump added.

The modified Boeing 747 used as Air Force One will in fact fly over, as will noisy, powerful warplanes expected to include F-35s, and jets from the Navy's Blue Angels air show acrobatics team.

A handful of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles are stationed near the Lincoln Memorial, although the enormous M1 Abrams tanks are not expected to roll, as their tracks would likely tear up city streets.

The center of attention, however, will not be the weapons or nearly million dollars' worth of fireworks that are set to go off. Rather, it will be Trump.

"Your favorite President, me!" he tweeted when announcing the show.

- Non-partisan no more -

Inserting a high-profile presidential address risks changing the apolitical dynamic of the day, as Trump is supported by just over 40 percent of the country ahead of his 2020 reelection bid and fervently opposed by much of the remaining electorate.

Trump's "ego is so large that he's holding this Fourth of July campaign rally in a desperate cry for attention, and everyone knows it," Senator Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter.

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, who served for six years in the Navy Reserves and spent six months in Afghanistan, said Trump's prime time televised extravaganza makes the country seem smaller.

"One of the reasons I joined the military was that in a small way I wanted to be part of seeing to it that my country was not the kind of place where a leader feels the need to boost his own ego by rolling tanks down the streets of our capital," Buttigieg told CNN Wednesday.

"We've always been bigger than that," he added.

Counter-protesters plan to bring their own kind of political fireworks to the National Mall, the grassy park running two miles (three kilometers) from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol.

Leftist organization Code Pink is deploying its "Baby Trump" blimp, a large inflated doll depicting the president in diapers.

But the National Park Service denied permission to fill the inflatable with helium, so the cranky, infantile Trump balloon will stay on the ground.

Many people are up in arms about what all this is going to cost. The White House has refused to say so far.

- Salesman, showman, president -

A former reality TV star, Trump is tapping his considerable showmanship skills.

Being up on the Lincoln Memorial will guarantee unbeatable pictures.

The statue honoring civil war president Abraham Lincoln is famous as the location for Martin Luther King Jr's epic 1963 "I have a dream" speech.

But Trump's inspiration appears to be taken less from that civil rights cry than a Bastille Day military parade he attended in 2017 as a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron.

So impressed was Trump that he came up with the idea of putting on a major extravaganza for Veteran's Day, which is marked on November 11. But an outcry over the almost $100 million price tag meant it had to be scrapped.

Now he'll get a scaled-back version.

As he prepared for the big day Trump downplayed the price.

"The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth," Trump tweeted Wednesday.