Two Americas, Celebrating Separately in One Place

Spread the love

WASHINGTON — Most days the National Mall, a two-mile grassy expanse with the Capitol on its east end and the Lincoln Memorial on the west, is home to Frisbee players, museumgoers and joggers. On the Fourth of July, it hosted two distinct versions of America.

On the Capitol side Thursday afternoon, a smattering of mostly local residents, some carrying picnic hampers, waited in the humid weather for the traditional Independence Day concert featuring singer-songwriter Carole King, the National Symphony Orchestra, a special guest appearance by the Muppets and fireworks at nightfall.

On the Lincoln Memorial side, a raucous crowd of President Trump’s faithful, wearing red hats and plastic rain ponchos, pushing strollers, leaning on canes, and lugging lawn chairs, Chihuahuas and at least one Great Dane, began arriving more than six hours before Mr. Trump’s scheduled speech.

Dodging thundershowers, they pitched tents and blanket encampments inside a muddy, cyclone-fenced enclosure in the shadow of the Jumbotron, chanting “U.S.A.!” and “Four more years!” as they awaited the president’s words.

“There must be a million of us,” said Ron Beauchemin, 53, hyperbolizing as he swept his eyes over the crowd streaming through security, and lined up 90 deep at a nearby hot-dog stand.

Mr. Beauchemin and his wife, Crystal, 56, who own a moving business, had come up from Sarasota, Fla., for the weekend, accompanied by Darlene Izzo, a 53-year-old accountant from Sanibel Island, whom they had met at a Trump rally.

“God sent Darlene to me,” Ms. Beauchemin said. The group had chipped in on a $25 Chick-fil-A gift card for Mr. Trump, and planned to deliver it during a White House tour they had booked for Friday. “He likes burgers and fast food,” Mr. Beauchemin said.

“I have three sons in the Marines, and I wanted to bring my grandchildren to the White House,” Ms. Beauchemin said. But she left them at home, afraid of anti-Trump demonstrators “hitting people with crowbars and throwing cement on them,” she said.

Crowbars and cement were absent from Thursday’s festivities. The giant “Trump baby” balloon made only intermittent appearances, partly grounded by rain.

In the middle of the Mall, at the Smithsonian Metro stop, people disembarked from the subway and headed either east to the symphony band shell, or west to the Jumbotron and MAGA encampment.

In the dead center of this demilitarized zone stood the Frisch family.

“We’re just here for the dinosaurs,” said Kyle Frisch, 32, wandering with his brother Kevin, 27, toward the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History flanking the Mall.

They were visiting their father, Neil Frisch, and were in Washington for a long weekend that began with a Rolling Stones concert. They planned to avoid Mr. Trump’s speech, and watch the fireworks from Mr. Frisch’s waterfront rooftop.

“To me politics is all kids playing in a sandbox,” Neil Frisch said. “I wish they’d get some things done.”

A man who would identify himself only as Jay was also there, and confessed that Thursday on the Mall was “the first time I’ve ever seen a MAGA hat up close.”

“I live in a kind of liberal bubble,” in College Park, Md., he said. He was downtown for a screening of “Echo in the Canyon,” about the 1960s music scene in Los Angeles. “I thought I’d take a picture of the tanks just to show how bizarre the world has gotten. But I don’t want to get into any fights,” he said, moving toward the Metro.

Moving east toward the band shell, the Mall was mostly empty Thursday afternoon, except for a group of girls taking photos of one another holding miniature versions of the Trump baby balloon, and a woman carried a placard reading “Fight Ignorance, Not Immigrants” under her arm.

The Correa family, from the Washington suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., was celebrating daughter Kenzie’s fifth birthday with a Smithsonian visit and carousel ride. “It would be really cool” for son Logan, 15 months, to see the tanks outside the Lincoln Memorial, said his mother, Nikki Correa. But instead the family was headed home. Mr. Trump’s salute to America “honestly is a complete embarrassment,” she said.

Back on the Trump side, the crowd gradually thickened, converging at the Washington Monument into a sea of people wearing Trump paraphernalia. A heavily tattooed man pushed a shopping cart, selling banners with a full-color photo of Mr. Trump and the slogan “A Hero Will Rise.”

A man in a Superman T-shirt carried a sign reading “Are You Good Enough to Go to Heaven?” A family purchased matching “Keep America Great” T-shirts from a sidewalk vendor: “That’s what they’re changing it to, kids!” a woman told two children. “Make America Great Again, Keep America Great. 2020!”

A middle-age man blitzed past on a scooter and shouted, “This city is in desperate need of Jesus!”

The Beauchemins and Ms. Izzo were standing between the flag salesman and a bottled-water vendor, looking for directions to the rally. Ms. Izzo wore a MAGA T-shirt and a shawl resembling an American flag with armholes; her toenails were painted in stars and stripes. Ms. Beauchemin wore a commemorative “Salute to America” T-shirt and red, white and blue Mardi Gras beads; Mr. Beauchemin wore a black-and-white “Trump 2020” tank top with a sketch of the president’s face.

Helped by a bystander, they made it through security as the rain started, passing a likeness of Mr. Trump sitting on a golden toilet and holding a cellphone as a recording played his voice saying, “No collusion.”

“Why do they hate him so much?” Ms. Beauchemin said. “Look at that disrespect. Nobody has ever been so disrespectful of a president.”

“Umbrellas down!” people shouted, as the Marine band played on the Jumbotron, and children pressed up against the fencing to see. “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

More and more people, most of them white, squeezed into the enclosure. A man hoisted two little boys wearing flag-printed shirts onto his shoulders. “Look at them,” Ms. Beauchemin said. “That’s America.”

This rally “is not about politics,” she said. “It’s about our country.”

Lola Fadulu and John Ismay contributed reporting.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply