Opinion | Trump Wants to Party Like It’s 1776

Break out those party pants: Donald Trump wants to throw America a birthday bash for the ages!

As Republican presidential hopefuls pile onto the primary field, Mr. Trump is looking for ways to play up and lock in his front-runner status. Last week, in a video posted on Truth Social, he rolled out his latest Big Idea: a yearlong, nationwide celebration marking the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

In keeping with his more-is-more aesthetic, the former president wants to host a “most spectacular” affair to “give America’s founding in 1776 the incredible anniversary it truly deserves.” The festivities would run from Memorial Day 2025 through July 4, 2026, and include a variety of red-white-and-blue delights, such as bringing together high school athletes from across the nation to compete in the Patriot Games and reviving plans for a statuary park honoring “the greatest Americans of all time.”

More ambitious still: Mr. Trump would order up a yearlong Great American State Fair, with pavilions showcasing each of the 50 states — ideally at “the legendary Iowa state fairgrounds,” to which he would invite “millions and millions of visitors from around the world.”

“We will build it,” he promised, “and they will come.”

Message to voters: Give me four more years, and we will have ourselves some fun and rake in piles of cash from foreigners!

Related message to Iowa voters: How’s that for a flagrant suck-up?

Kudos to whoever in Trumpworld cooked up this rare gem. I mean, can anyone imagine Ron DeSantis proffering such a wild rumpus? Nikki Haley? Mike Pence? (Is that guy even allowed to go to parties?) Please. These low-energy losers wouldn’t know how to throw a birthday blowout if their poll numbers depended on it.

Seriously, though, as campaign gimmicks go, Mr. Trump’s proposed Salute to America 250, as he plans to name the related task force, is exquisitely on brand: an intoxicating blend of nostalgia, spectacle and performative patriotism — with lots of sharp edges, of course. Even as Mr. Trump hawks the project as an opportunity for national uplift, he has woven in themes and language seemingly designed to provoke discord. If it’s less apocalyptic than his “American carnage” spiel, the plan is no less about the vibe politics at the heart of his cultlike appeal — and it tells us plenty about how his campaign is shaping up this time around.

It is a sad commentary on our political climate that something as potentially unifying as a national birthday party comes loaded with divisive cultural baggage. But here we are. Yes, 1776 is a big date in American history. But in the Trump era, it also became a culture-war rallying point, a shorthand for one’s commitment to traditional values and hostility to anything conservatives deem woke.

Just before the 2020 election, Mr. Trump formed a 1776 Commission to promote “patriotic education.” This move was in part a reaction to The Times’s 1619 Project, which took a hard look at the nation’s past through the lens of slavery and systemic racism. Mr. Trump pitched the commission as a way to combat the “twisted web of lies” being taught to schoolchildren by America-hating radicals — a way to help “patriotic moms and dads” fight back against this “child abuse.”

Similarly, under different circumstances, a high-school sporting competition could be a lovely way to recognize a cross-section of America’s youth. But in the current moment, with culture warriors in a dither over traditional manhood and strength — not to mention the right’s freak-out over trans athletes — Mr. Trump’s Hunger/Patriot Games vision seems more than a little fraught. The whole thing has a retro, survival-of-the-fittest, vaguely gladiatorial feel, with the MAGA king sorting boys from girls and winners from losers and generally passing judgment on what constitutes valor and vigor.

Then there’s Mr. Trump’s push to resurrect his National Garden of American Heroes. (In 2020 he signed an executive order for such a statuary park — expressly aimed at answering the “dangerous anti-American extremism” seeking to “dismantle our country’s history, institutions and very identity” — only to have it canceled by President Biden.) Such a monument initially sounds harmless, if ridiculously overbroad — until you start thinking about the bloody brawls that would inevitably ensue over which Americans deserved to be included, which excluded and who exactly would make those decisions.

With Mr. Trump as the guiding spirit, any 1776 tribute seems destined to descend into a culture-war cage match. Think Thunderdome but less civilized.

The particulars aside, this proposal is precisely the kind of bread-and-circuses distractions that Mr. Trump will need to lean on in this race — in part because of his feeble record of concrete accomplishments. During his stunner of a 2016 run, Mr. Trump was an unknown political quantity who tossed around all kinds of bold policy promises. He was going to repeal and replace Obamacare, restore America to manufacturing greatness, drain the swamp, tame the debt, build a wall! There was going to be so much winning, he vowed, that voters would get sick of it.

So much for all that.

Going forward, MAGA die-hards may not give a fig about all the policy wins Mr. Trump failed to deliver during his presidency, much less all the toxic insanity he overdelivered. But plenty of independents, swing voters and even moderate Republicans do. And Mr. Trump’s primary opponents are out there working to chip away at his support among the noncultists, in part by invoking these flops.

Here’s hoping someone somehow succeeds and manages to short-circuit the former president’s grandiose party planning. As is all too clear by now, any time Mr. Trump is involved, no celebration is ever going to be worth the hangover.

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Michelle Cottle is a member of the Times editorial board, focusing on U.S. politics. She has covered Washington and politics since the Clinton administration. @mcottle

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