Trump hails ‘greatest political journey’ during Independence Day speech

US president Donald Trump celebrated "the greatest political journey in human history" during an Independence Day speech before a soggy, cheering crowd of spectators.

Supporters welcomed his tribute to the US military while protesters attacked him for putting himself centre stage on a holiday devoted to unity.

Mr Trump called on Americans to "stay true to our cause" in a Fourth of July celebration which adhered to patriotic themes and hailed an eclectic mix of history's heroes, from the armed forces, space, civil rights and other endeavours of American life.

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Donald Trump's Salute to America parade
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Donald Trump's Salute to America parade
The Washington Monument is visible as the US Navy Blue Angels flyover at the conclusion of President Donald Trump's Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump looks up during the military flyovers at the Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. The Washington Monument is in the background. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump applauds during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump speaks during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Thursday, July 4, 2019. The Washington Monument and the reflecting pool are in the background(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence and others stand as the US Army Band performs and the US Navy Blue Angels flyover at the end of an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Fireworks light the sky over Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol, at the National Mall, during the Independence Day celebrations in Washington on Thursday, July 4, 2019, after President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' remarks at Lincoln Memorial. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
President Donald Trump speaks in the rain behind glass during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Fireworks explode over Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol, at the National Mall, during the Independence Day celebrations in Washington on Thursday, July 4, 2019, after President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' remarks at Lincoln Memorial. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
President Donald Trump applauds as he speaks in the rain behind glass during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. The Washington Memorial is in the background. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump look the the crowd as they leave an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The Blue Angels, the United States Navy's flight demonstration squadron, flies over the Lincoln Memorial during an Independence Day celebration with President Donald Trump, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
U.S. Army planes fly over Washington during an Independence Day celebration attended by President Donald Trump at the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
U.S. Army planes fly over Washington during an Independence Day celebration attended by President Donald Trump at the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, right, applaud as President Donald Trump pauses while speaking during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, right, watch as aircraft flyover during an Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The Washington Monument is visible as the US Navy Blue Angels flyover at the conclusion of President Donald Trump's Independence Day celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Thursday, July 4, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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He largely stuck to his script, avoiding diversions into his agenda or re-election campaign.

But in one exception, he vowed: "Very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars" – a distant goal not likely to be achieved until late in the 2020s if even then.

A late afternoon downpour drenched Washington DC's Independence Day crowds, but Mr Trump's speech unfolded in occasional rain, and the warplanes and presidential aircraft he had summoned conducted their flyovers as planned, capped by the Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team.

By adding his own, one-hour Salute to America production to capital festivities that typically draw hundreds of thousands anyway, Mr Trump became the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day.

Protesters objecting to what they saw as his co-opting of the holiday inflated a balloon depicting Mr Trump as an angry, nappy-clad baby.

Not since 1951, when US president Harry Truman spoke before a large gathering on the Washington Monument grounds to mark the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, has a commander in chief made an Independence Day speech to a sizeable crowd on the Mall.

Pete Buttigieg, one of the Democrats running for president, said: "this business of diverting money and military assets to use them as a kind of prop, to prop up a presidential ego, is not reflecting well on our country".

Washington has held an Independence Day celebration for decades, featuring a parade along Constitution Avenue, a concert on the Capitol lawn with music by the National Symphony Orchestra and fireworks beginning at dusk near the Washington Monument.

Mr Trump altered the lineup by adding his speech, moving the fireworks closer to the Lincoln Memorial and summoning the tanks and warplanes.

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