WASHINGTON — On a day meant for unity and celebration, President Trump vowed to “safeguard our values” from enemies within — leftists, looters, agitators, he said — in a Fourth of July speech packed with all the grievances and combativeness of his political rallies.
Trump watched paratroopers float to the ground in a tribute to America, greeted his audience of front-line medical workers and others central in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, and opened up on those who “slander” him and disrespect the country’s past.
“We are now in the process of defeating the radical left, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters, and the people who, in many instances, have absolutely no clue what they are doing,” he said. ‘‘We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children.
‘‘And we will defend, protect and preserve [the] American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”
He did not mention the dead from the pandemic. Nearly 130,000 are known to have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
Even as officials across the country pleaded with Americans to curb their enthusiasm for large Fourth of July crowds, Trump enticed the masses with a “special evening” of tribute and fireworks staged with new US coronavirus infections on the rise.
But the crowds wandering the National Mall for the night’s air show and fireworks were strikingly thinner those the gathering for last year’s celebration on the Mall.
Many who showed up wore masks, unlike those seated close together for Trump’s South Lawn event, and distancing was easy to do for those scattered across the sprawling space.
Trump did not hesitate to use the country’s birthday as an occasion to assail segments of the country that do not support him.
Carrying on a theme he pounded on a day earlier against the backdrop of the Mount Rushmore monuments, he went after those who have torn down statues or think some of them, particularly those of Confederate figures, should be removed.
“Our past is not a burden to be cast away,’’ Trump said.
By the World War II Memorial, the National Park Service handed out packets of five white cloth masks to all who wanted them. People were not required to wear them.
Trump’s guests on the South Lawn were doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, and military members as well as officials from the administration, said Judd Deere, deputy White House press secretary.
In many parts of the country, authorities discouraged mass gatherings for the holiday after days that have seen COVID-19 cases grow at a rate not experienced even during the deadliest phase of the pandemic in the spring.
Yet Trump continued to crave big crowds when it came to his events.
He opened the holiday weekend by traveling to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota for a fireworks display Friday night near the mountain carvings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. In stark words, he accused protesters who have pushed for racial justice of engaging in a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history.”
Even as he pushed ahead with celebrations, the shadow of the coronavirus loomed closer to him. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top fund-raiser for the president and girlfriend of his eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for the virus, Trump’s campaign said late Friday.
In a presidential message Saturday morning on the 244th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Trump acknowledged that “over the past months, the American spirit has undoubtedly been tested by many challenges.”
His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, said in a statement that the United States “never lived up” to its founding principle that “all men are created equal,’’ but today ‘‘we have a chance to rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country.'’
Trump’s endorsement of big gatherings at the National Mall and at Mount Rushmore came as many communities decided to scrap fireworks, parades, and other holiday traditions in hopes of avoiding yet more surges in infection.
Confirmed cases were climbing in 40 states, and the United States set another record Friday with 52,300 newly reported infections, according to the tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Trump did not dwell on the pandemic in his remarks Saturday evening. Instead, he declared that “our country is in great shape.”
In other holiday weekend developments:
■ California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, warned counties that they risked losing state money if they failed to enforce health orders heading into the holiday weekend. He urged residents not to gather with people they don’t live with and to avoid crowds. Fireworks shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and elsewhere in the state were canceled.
■ Governor J.B. Pritzker, Democrat of Illinois, said he would not hesitate to close down businesses that didn’t abide by capacity requirements, and he encouraged people to avoid large crowds.
■ Beach closures in prime locations are a pandemic fallout. Florida’s most populous county, Miami-Dade, closed beaches through the weekend, and South Florida municipalities from Vero Beach to Broward County did the same. Beaches in the Florida Keys were closed, too. In California, beach closures extended from Los Angeles County northward through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.