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(CNN)George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt … Donald Trump?
For President Trump, nothing could be more natural than to stand alongside such giants of American history. On Friday night, he will travel to Mount Rushmore for an early Independence Day party, reviving the environmentally worrisome tradition of July Fourth fireworks over their massive carved likenesses.
Such frivolity might seem in poor taste amid a fast-worsening pandemic — and unwise since social distancing won’t be required at the event. But the holiday that celebrates independence from Britain is being used to bolster Trump’s false narrative that the country is doing just fine.
“We’re headed back in a very strong fashion … and I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus,” Trump told Fox Business on Wednesday, a day after his government’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, had warned that the US could soon see 100,000 new cases per day.
The Mount Rushmore state, South Dakota, has not been as badly hit by the virus as much of the rest of the heartland. But it only takes one infected person in what is expected to be a big crowd to seed new outbreaks.
The President loves a big show and bigger crowds. On Saturday, he’ll host his second “Salute to America” festival in Washington, complete with another massive fireworks display. Last year, his demand for flypasts and military hardware modeled on France’s Bastille Day parade doubled the cost of the event to $13 million. Washington’s Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked citizens to stay home and watch the show on TV — but the temptation will be great for many. The city’s subway system is already bracing for crammed trains.It’s another public health nightmare. But Trump is desperate to put himself at the center of a celebration, four months away from Election Day. And it will take more than the worst pandemic in a century to get in his way.
Trump is not the only world leader basking in reflected presidential greatness. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who emulated his hero Winston Churchill by reaching 10 Downing Street, is now invoking the other half of World War II’s dynamic democratic duo — US President Franklin Roosevelt.
With Britain in danger of posting its worst-ever unemployment figures, Johnson is promising a huge government investment program modeled on FDR’s New Deal, which put America back to work in the 1930s and nurtured the welfare state. It’s an intriguing comparison, not least because of Johnson’s audacity in comparing himself to the wheelchair-using Democratic Party giant who beat the Great Depression and crushed Nazism.
To start, Johnson’s proposed plan — worth 5 billion pounds, or 6.24 billion dollars — is tiny compared with Roosevelt’s vast public works programs. But it’s still daring: Johnson’s Conservative Party remains in the shadow of Margaret Thatcher, whose unbridled capitalism was the antithesis of FDR’s government spending sprees. And Johnson has yet to reveal if he will raise taxes to pay for his infrastructure investments, as FDR did. His flirtation with Roosevelt is also a hint that despite his populist style, flamboyant rhetoric and fervent support for Brexit, Johnson is actually a more conventional and moderate politician than Trump — to whom he’s often compared.
In calling for a “Rooseveltian approach” in the UK, Johnson may be thinking less of ideology than about FDR’s buoyant, cheery personality, which put steel in the soul of his compatriots during his remarkable 12 years in power. That optimism, epitomized by the 32nd President’s campaign song, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” may be just what the world needs right now.