WASHINGTON: Under fire for his response to America s spiraling coronavirus caseload, President Donald Trump headed to Mount Rushmore on Friday for a night of holiday fireworks that he hopes will provide a much-needed distraction.
On the eve of Independence Day, the Republican leader will speak in the shadow of four notable predecessors: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, whose likenesses are carved into a granite cliff in South Dakota s Black Hills.
Some 7,500 attendees are expected. There are no plans for social distancing, and protective masks will be available but not required.
Trump has had little to say about the shocking increase in US virus cases, though he tweeted Thursday the rise was because “our testing is so massive and so good,” calling that “great news.”
He added: “Even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN.”
With the dramatic backdrop, Trump will address civil unrest that has seen statues of pro-slavery historical figures torn down by protesters.
The president will “tell the truth about America s history and he will tell the truth about those trying to tear it down and divide our country,” a campaign official said.
“The left wing mob and those practicing cancel culture are engaging in totalitarian behavior that is completely alien to American life — and we must not accept it,” the official said.
Amid the spate of bad virus news — and as he persistently trails Democratic opponent Joe Biden in polls ahead of November s election — Trump has been openly exuberant about the Rushmore event.
“We re going to have a tremendous evening,” the president said Thursday. “It s going to be a fireworks display like few people have seen.”
The pandemic has claimed nearly 130,000 American lives, and a recent resurgence of cases in the country s south and west “puts the entire country at risk,” top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has said.
Vice President Mike Pence postponed a trip to Arizona this week after members of his Secret Service detail reportedly showed signs of COVID-19, and he and other Republican leaders have belatedly begun emphasizing the importance of wearing masks.
Will Trump wear a face mask Friday, setting an example for the nation?
For now, he is sticking with his oft-voiced message that the coronavirus crisis is being “handled,” the US economy is “roaring back,” and 2021 will be a “phenomenal” year.
Yet some US states are currently beating their own grim virus records nearly every day. The number of daily new cases nationwide recently topped 50,000 for the first time.
US testing has risen sharply, but health experts say it still lags on a per capita basis behind many other countries and does not fully explain the case rise. They also note that deaths tend to increase a few weeks after cases rise.
Former president Barack Obama weighed in Friday, tweeting: “This holiday weekend, let s be safe and smart. It s going to take all of us to beat this virus. So wear a mask. Wash your hands. And listen to the experts, not the folks trying to divide us.”
Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania, can expect a warm welcome in South Dakota, a state he won easily in 2016.
The state s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, is certainly not going to spoil his party.
“We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home,” Noem told Fox News on Thursday.
“Those who want to come and join us, we ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we will not be social distancing.”
Randy Seiler, who heads the state Democratic party, told CNN the planned festivities are problematic: That they are offensive to Native Americans who consider the land sacred, that the fireworks pose a fire risk in the extremely dry area, and that the virus danger is real.
The event, he told CNN, “is a recipe for disaster.”
Trump has long expressed his fascination with the imposing Mount Rushmore sculpture.
In 2017, he joked about someday seeing his own face joining the Rushmore likenesses of his four predecessors — though the National Park Service says “the work is complete in its present form.”