WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump used an elaborate fireworks display and Air Force One flyover at Mount Rushmore on Friday night to rally his base, ushering in Fourth of July celebrations a day early with accusations that a "new far-left fascism" is part of "a merciless campaign to wipe out our history."
The combative address in South Dakota, using one of the more dramatic and historical backdrops of his presidency, came as Trump trails badly behind Joe Biden in public opinion polls amid a rapidly spreading pandemic, high unemployment and a national reexamination of the role of racism in American history, policing and culture.
Trump has indicated repeatedly -- sometimes employing racist rhetoric or dog whistles -- that he believes his best hope at victory lies in rallying his largely white voting base around the idea that demands for change amount to an attack on American values and culture. In Friday's speech, he aimed exclusively at those voters, making few concessions to the usual July 4 traditions of national unity.
"Make no mistake," Trump told several thousand people, packed tightly into the amphitheater near the monument, mostly without masks, chanting "USA" as they cheered him on, "this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution."
The goal of the opposition, he said, "is not a better America. Their goal is to end America."
"They," he said, without ever specifying who he meant were infiltrating American institutions, including schools, indoctrinating school children to hate their country. Although he made a point of lauding the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Black figures, he focused on the nation's founders, calling the American Revolution "the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization," emphasizing the country's links to European culture.
"They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive," Trump said of his unnamed critics. "But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will never allow our history and culture to be taken from them."
Trump repeatedly promised to defend historical monuments and statues, but avoided any mention of the statues that have been the focus of the most debate -- those of Confederate leaders, which he has called for preserving, even as cities and states take steps to remove them.
Whether Trump's denunciations of "cancel culture" and his vows to protect American statues and monuments will connect with a wider group of voters is questionable. He largely avoided talking about topics that voters say are at the top of their concerns, such as the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
But as Trump spoke, his campaign confirmed that Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top campaign surrogate and Donald Trump Jr.'s girlfriend, had tested positive for the virus. The campaign said Donald Jr. had tested negative. Neither of them were in attendance after canceling public events.