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Politics

President Trump Honors Greek Independence Day at White House (Vids & Pics)

March 21, 2019
Eraklis Diamataris

WASHINGTON, DC – President Donald Trump was delighted to welcome a throng of leaders and members of the Greek-American Community that was dominated by enthusiastic supporters to the annual celebration of Greek Independence on March 18.

As one of only two minorities in the United States that is honored with a special event in the White House, the fact that the Greek-American community is annually received by the President of the United States in recognition of their heroic struggle for independence from the Ottoman empire is a significant event. It is a testament to the relentless determination of immigrants from Greece to put down roots in the United States and succeed, and in doing so, enabled future generations of Greek-Americans to live and prosper in the United States.

At the White House, there was a festive atmosphere noticeable by all present on March 18 with lively chatter amongst old friends and new acquaintances enjoying an exceptional spread of appetizers, all of Greek origin, provided by the White House chefs.

Among the dignitaries were various members of the Greek and American armed forces, the latter of Greek descent, as well as the Shadow Foreign Minister of the Hellenic Republic Giorgos Koumoutsakos.  

The main event commemorating the Greek War of Independence, per longstanding tradition when it comes to this annual gathering, was the presentation of addresses by the President of the United States and Archbishop Demetrios of America.

In his speech President Donald Trump referenced that Greece is the birthplace of democracy. By being the birthplace of democracy he said, Greece has offered so much to humanity as a whole, but the contributions of the Greek people have not been limited to antiquity. President Trump referred to the countless of contributions from Greek-Americans throughout American history, namely in the fields of literature, public service, sports, and business – especially in construction and development.

More than once, President Trump went off script – as he usually does – to make points regarding his overall management of the nation and to chime in upon hearing chants from adoring crowds. 

The President of the United States was serenaded with cheers of “four more years!” by large swaths of the crowd that congregated in the East Room of the White House.

Trump delighted in the fact that he was able to pronounce some of the more complex Greek last names that his aides had listed to thank, and proceeded to go on for five to seven minutes about how the American economy under his presidency has never been stronger and that the United States has an economy that is, “the envy of the world.”

The president backed up that statement by saying that most of the leaders of the world that visit him or talk to him on the phone specifically reference the fact that America has an economy that is stronger than it ever has been. Red hats that said, “Make America Great Again!” dotted the heads of many of the event-goers and many in the audience used Trump’s frequent pauses to cheer and to encourage him to run again in 2020, but also to remain strong in the face of what they believe to be baseless accusations and a Democratic witch hunt against him and his administration. 

Unlike last year’s event that was attended by senior Trump White House officials of Greek descent such as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Scheduling and Advance Director George Gigicos, this year there were Trump Cabinet members on hand for the commemoration of Greek Independence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

Remarks by President Trump at Greek Independence Day Celebration

THE PRESIDENT: Wow. That’s a nice crowd of people. So we were just given this great hat. You know what that says? Huh? “Make Greece Great Again.” Right? (Applause.) Right?

Okay. Thank you all very much. A great honor to be here. And so many of my friends celebrate Greek Independence Day.

We’re deeply privileged to have with us His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, who’s been a friend of mine for a long time. (Applause.) It’s a great honor. To all the members of the Greek Orthodox community, welcome to a very, very special place called the White House. You’ve been hearing about it for a long time. You’ll be hearing about it for a long time. But it is a very, very special kind of a home. It becomes home, and there’s nothing like it.

We’re also grateful to be joined by Greece’s Ambassador to the United States, Haris Lalacos. Where’s Haris? Thank you very much. (Applause.) Great job. As well as the Ambassador from Cyprus, Marios Lysiotis. Lysiotis. (Applause.) Hi. How are you? Thanks, Marios. And the appointed Ambassador from the European Union, Stavros Lambrinidis. (Applause.) Thank you very much.

I want to thank the members of my Cabinet for being here also this evening. Thank you to Secretary Alex Azar. Where’s Alex? What a job he’s doing. (Applause.) First time in 51 years, prescription drug prices have come down. First time that’s happened. (Applause.) That’s Alex Azar. Thank you, Alex. Great job.

Secretary Elaine Chao. Where’s Elaine? (Applause.) Great job Elaine is doing. Where is Elaine? Thank you, Elaine.
Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has done fantastically. (Applause.) Thank you. Education. Education. Very important. Right, Betsy?

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, who’s going to be a permanent secretary very soon. David? Where are you, David? Where is David? He’s here someplace. Thank you, David. (Applause.) Along with Representative Chris Pappas. We really appreciate it very much. (Applause.)

Today, we commemorate the Greeks’ long struggle to regain their independence from a foreign empire. (Applause.) On March 25th, 1821 — it’s true. (Applause.) Yeah, we have an honorary Greek in the room: Mr. Howard Lorber. I call him an honorary Greek. (Applause.) And Harry LeFrak is here someplace, who’s my guy. Hi, Harry. We have a lot of great honorary — they all want to be Greek, you know? (Laughter.) They all want to be Greek.

On March 25th, 1821, Greek patriots rose up and fought to liberate their country, restore their sovereignty, and reclaim their destiny. Right?

This evening, we also celebrate the countless ways Greek Americans strengthen and uplift and inspire our nation. You live by the values that are the foundation of America’s greatness. You really do. You honor hard work. You love your families. You enrich your culture. And you embrace the American Dream and you keep faith in the blessings of Almighty God. And that’s great. (Applause.)

The United States — and all of Western civilization — has been profoundly shaped by the extraordinary achievements of the Greek people, stretching all the way back to ancient times. Long time. It’s a great culture.

Greek poets and philosophers like Homer and Aristotle have helped humanity pursue truth, and virtue, and justice. Ancient Greece achieved extraordinary feats of architecture, geometry, map-making, and so much else that has inspired all wonders of the world. And Greece is the birthplace of democracy. Have you heard that? (Applause.) Have you heard that?

As a famous Greek historian wrote, “Happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.” And you are courageous.

In every generation, Greek Americans have summoned the courage to defend our freedom. Today, we are honored to be in the presence of Greek Americans who have served in the American Armed Forces — many, many great Greek Americans — (applause) — including Senior Airman Gregory Manuel, who is currently a reservist with the 42nd Intelligence Squadron. I love that word. Where is Gregory? Where are you, Greg? Look at him. Handsome guy. (Applause.) Handsome guy. Good. Thank you very much for being here, Gregory. And Major Carl Hollister, who served in the Army for more than 20 years. And we’re very proud of Carl. Where’s Carl? (Applause.) Carl? Thank you. Thank you, Carl.

To Gregory and Carl, and everyone who has defended America and its uniform: We applaud your patriotism and we salute your noble service to our nation. We very much appreciate it. Thank you very much. Great job. (Applause.)

Americans of Greek descent have made lasting contributions to every arena of American life — in business, science, education, music, religion, and sports. You know, they didn’t say “sports.” I added sports. (Laughter.) I know a lot of great athletes. It’s true. I added that one. They didn’t have that on. That’s not good. (Laughter.) Going to have to fire that writer. Get out of here. You’re fired. (Laughter.) They’ve done a great job in sports. Great athletes.

Here with us today is George Marafatsos. George was born in the mountains of Sparta, Greece. (Applause.) When he was 10, his family immigrated to the United States. He earned money — a lot of money — helping out his grandfather’s barbershop.

Today, George has built a successful construction business and has served for more than 30 years as a parish councilmember at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. (Applause.) Where’s George? George? Where are you, George? Good job. Have you made a lot of money in construction, George? Was that better than the barbershop, or did you like the barbershop better? (Laughter.) See, he covers all fields, from barbershops to all sorts of things. Good. That’s great. We love the construction business, too. (Laughter.)

And there’s the great Elaine Chao. Good. Hi, Elaine. Elaine came. I was very upset when I didn’t see you here, Elaine. Secretary of Transportation. She’s fantastic. (Applause.) Maybe George can build you a couple of roads, right? (Laughter.) Under budget and ahead of schedule. Okay?

Also here with us is Aphrodite Skeadas. (Applause.) For more than 40 years, Aphrodite has served the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society. (Laughter and applause). I worked on that one. I had to get it right. I don’t know if I did or not, but I tried. (Laughter.) She’s helped lead efforts with more than 20,000 women across the country to feed the homeless, provide scholarships to students, and to help families in times of need.

To Aphrodite and every woman who serves with The Society, thank you for bringing hope to American families. And that’s what you’ve done. Where’s Aphrodite? (Applause.) Where is she? That’s what I thought. Thank you very much. Great job.

Today, we’re also grateful to be joined by Father Kosmas Karavellas. Father Kosmas was born in Greece to parents who had fled communist Albania. When he was five years old, his family arrived in the United States on the Fourth of July. Good day to arrive. When he was a young man, sitting in church, a little girl came up to him and said, “I really love the Christ in you.” Soon after, he decided to become a priest. Where are you, by the way? Right? Right? Where are you? Yes! (Applause.) I knew I liked you when I met you backstage.

Now, for more than 33 years, Father Kosmas has served the Greek Orthodox community in Annapolis, Maryland. Is he doing a good job? Doing good? (Applause.) He said, “Yes!” You’re okay. He said “outstanding,” actually. That’s very good. Can’t do better than that, right? Thank you very much. He helped build a new church, and he’s ministered to countless souls.

Father, today we express our immense gratitude for your lifetime of service. You’re an incredible man. I’ve heard it from many people in this room. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much.

Each of these remarkable individuals represent the stories of so many Greek Americans in the room. Many of them are in this room with us right now. And are you having a good time? Is everybody having a good time? (Applause.)
You have devoted your lives to your families, your communities, and to our country. Through your grit and your drive, and your will to succeed — you are very, very competitive people, I can tell you that. (Applause.) They don’t ever quit. You don’t ever give up. That’s what we want.

You’ve brought jobs and promise to cities and towns across America. And you’ve deepened the bonds of affection and renewed the pride of patriotism that unites us as one people, one family, and one glorious nation under God. (Applause.)

I want to thank you. God bless you. And again, I want to wish all of you a joyous Greek Independence Day. (Applause.) Thank you.
Thank you for being at the White House. Thank you all for being at the White House.

AUDIENCE: USA! USA! USA

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. You know, we — if I might say, we have an economy that’s as good as it’s ever been in our history. (Applause.) We have unemployment numbers — (applause) — we have unemployment numbers that are setting records and doing phenomenally. We have a country that’s the envy of the world, from an economic standpoint and from many other standpoints. We’re doing better than we’ve ever done. Is that right, Howard? I think you can speak to it. And, Harry, you can speak to it.

We know there’s never been — rarely, certainly — there’s rarely been a time like this, economically. The world is talking. When presidents and prime ministers and other come to see me, they all say, “Congratulations on this great economy that you’ve built.” And they try and do the same thing. And it doesn’t work out so well, but that’s okay. But they’re trying.

But we have — (applause) — we have an economy that’s as good as it’s ever been. We have car companies moving in. Many, many car companies. I was with Prime Minster Abe of Japan.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT: Four more years. (Laughs.) I was with Prime Minister Abe. They’re sending many companies. Toyota just announced a $13.5 billion investment in the United States. They’re opening up more plants and expanding. (Applause.) And many other companies. So, we’re very proud of it.

But now, before I sign the Greek Independence Day proclamation, which I look forward to doing — I’ve now done it already twice; this is my third time. You know what that means? Time flies. Look how this happened. And I wouldn’t miss it. I wouldn’t miss it. I was supposed to be at another event today. I said, “You mean…” — the people came over — I said to them, “You mean I won’t be able to be there for my Greek friends?” They said, “No, sir. Not this time. But next year.” I said, “No, no, no. I’m doing it this time.” So — (applause.)

So I’d like to invite a friend of mine, Archbishop Demetrios, to say a few words. And then we’re going to sign this great proclamation. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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