The National Park Service has a useful list of the ways Presidents have celebrated the Fourth of July in the past. Some interesting ones (their editing is terrible, but this is copy&paste. Just assume a [sic] throughout):
1798 – President Adams is in Philadelphia where he reviews military parade with a reception later in the afternoon for guests.
1812 – Madison is at the Capitol for a ceremony, and then reviews a military parade before entertaining guests a the White house.
1848 – President Polk has guests at the White House, including former first lady Dolly Madison. Later he witnesses the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument with future President Lincoln in attendance followed by a military parade.
1913 – President Wilson travels to Gettysburg, PA for a Fourth of July battle reunion speech.
So, contrary to some on Twitter, having military parades for the Fourth of July is hardly “unprecedented,” and we’ve managed to have military parades on Independence Day since, well, Independence.
The complaint that Trump is making the Fourth of July “political” would stun people like Lincoln, Jefferson, Madison, and either Adams.
Let’s be clear: the Fourth of July is a political holiday. Revolution is a political act.
Our Revolution was a military action — among other things — that freed us “to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”
It’s completely just that the U.S. military, yes with tanks and warplanes, should be part of the celebration of that inherently political act.
Of course, right now we have a peculiar situation in which celebrating the independence of America and the achievements of Americans is seen as not just political, but partisan, because a whole wing of American politics right now is dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal; that the clerisy, the lettered, those with Ivy-League degrees and the right family connections, form a distinct and natural aristocracy that should by rights not just govern, but rule.
So it’s no wonder that they object to this Independence Day parade; Trump’s election and his surprising success as president challenge their most deeply-held belief.
It challenges the belief that they rule by right.
It represents a successful challenge to their presumptions of superiority and the right to rule. And, like all aristocracies, in Jefferson’s words, they “fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.”
Jefferson had an answer to that.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The real message of the Fourth of July, with tanks and planes and fireworks and cookouts and beer and parties, is that we may consent to be governed, but we will not consent to be ruled.
And that the intended rulers cannot bear.