U.S. President Donald Trump speaks next to Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2019.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, July 4, 2019.

Updated at 8:28 p.m. July 4.

President Donald Trump played host Thursday evening in Washington for what he calls "The Show of a Lifetime" to celebrate U.S. Independence Day. 

While U.S. presidents have traditionally sat back to watch Americans celebrate independence in their own way, Trump himself directly took charge of the celebration. He introduced military jet flyovers, patriotic band music and a display of tanks, and made a long speech at the Lincoln Memorial highlighting 243 years of American history, despite steamy weather and the threat of storms.

He called the history of the United States "the epic tale of a great nation of people who have risked everything for what they know is right and what they know is true."

President Donald Trump, walking with first lady Melania Trump, waves to the crowd after speaking at an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, July 4, 2019.

There were fears Trump would turn the nation's birthday party into a political event by talking about what he feels are his accomplishments as president.

But he made no mention of politics, next year's election or the two dozen Democratic candidates looking to stop him from a second term. Instead, Trump avoided talking about what divides Americans and spoke of what unifies them.

"As we gather this evening in the joy of freedom, we remember that we all share a truly extraordinary heritage. Together, we are one of the greatest stories ever told," the president said. "Americans love our freedom and no one will ever take it away from us ... our nation is stronger today than it ever was before."

Trump paid special tribute to each branch of the U.S. military and appealed to young Americans to consider making the military a career.


But many who live in Washington were angry that the Pentagon and security officials commandeered areas of the National Mall where the public usually gathers for celebrations. 

National Park Service rangers view a Baby Trump balloon before Independence Day celebrations on the National Mall in Washington, July 4, 2019.

Others were upset the White House handed out tickets for seats to Trump's speech only to Republicans loyal to the president. 

Anti-Trump protesters were highly visible along the mall all day, including the now familiar blimp depicting Trump as an angry baby in a diaper. Vendors sold mini-Trump baby balloons on wooden sticks for demonstrators to wave. 

Protesters included military veterans who say they resent someone who never served in the military exploiting their service for his own satisfaction. Trump supporters in red "Make America Great Again" hats confronted some of the protesters, but their debates were civil and free of insults and name-calling.

Cost of celebration

The cost of Thursday's celebration, including all the preparation, could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly past the Washington Monument as President Donald Trump speaks during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, July 4, 2019.

But Trump tweeted the cost "will be very little compared to what it is worth. "

The Fourth of July festivities commemorate America's declaration of independence from Britain in 1776.

Those not in Washington on Thursday celebrated Independence Day around the county with parades, picnics and fireworks.