hen Donald Trump arrived on the National Mall on Thursday, accompanied by his wife Melania, Vice President Mike Pence, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, and acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the mood in the VIP tent was subdued.

In the moments before his arrival, perhaps because of the rain, or perhaps because of the higher-profile crowd closer to the podium, the chants of “U.S.A.” heard on the Mall never quite reached the necessary volume to sustain themselves or spread beyond small corners.

The event, for all its fanfare, had little of the boisterous joy that you feel on a typical July 4 on the Mall. The rain didn’t help. The president’s appearance gave it more weight and pomp than usual. Some of that weight came from the contradictions of this president choosing at this time to speak at this location, one as close to sacred as any in America’s secular religion.

Trump staged his speech in the shadow of a monument to a president who spoke of “malice toward none,” a message nearly the opposite of his own political strategy; he was just a stone’s throw away from a memorial to American dead in Vietnam, a war he had avoided.

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