President Trump is more concerned about getting re-elected than protecting Americans from coronavirus. His Rallies prove it.
Oklahoma is a Trump-supporting state. It is also where I call home. Located in the “heartland” of America, the state is able to claim the intersection of two of the largest highway systems in the US, three of the five largest tornadoes in world history, and the largest population of forcibly relocated Native Americans in the United States.
Oklahoma is also able to claim the national ranking of 45 out of 50 for quality of education, 46 out of 50 for the healthiest residents, 45 out of 50 in preparedness for COVID-10, and 38 out of 50 for the most Republican states.
Oklahoma City, the capital, as the second-most conservative city in the United States, and Tulsa, the second-largest city, ranks ninth.
It is no wonder that, because of factors like these, the Trump Campaign chose my state to host one of its biggest rallies, set to occur on Saturday, before the Republican National Convention.
Oklahoma has been overwhelmingly conservative, or “red,” since 1994.
The current governor, Kevin Stitt, ran his campaign on religious conservatism—frequently beginning his advertisements with, “as a Christian and father of six…”—to appeal to the almost 80% Christian population of the state.
The governor’s platform highlighted his defense of the 2nd Amendment (the Right to Bear Arms) and his membership in the National Rifle Association (the biggest opponent to national background checks for gun purchases), cutting Medicaid (the national healthcare plan), and expanding Oklahoma’s educational system.
In 2018, both Vice President Pence and President Trump endorsed Governor Stitt.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the governor has refused to issue mandatory face mask orders. When some municipalities chose to issue city-wide requirements, protesters declared it a violation of their “constitutional rights.” National and local news reported violent attacks on city officials and small business owners who attempted to enforce the wearing of face masks.
Governor Stitt received national attention for refusing to wear a face mask and visiting a restaurant with his wife and six children during the pandemic.
Many assume that Governor Stitt’s support for the Trump Administration, in addition to Oklahoma’s conservative nature and the state’s handling of coronavirus, contributed to the campaign choosing Tulsa, Oklahoma as the site for the first Trump Rally since the pandemic began.
This decision callously overlooked both national and Oklahoma history.
The original date for the Rally was June 19th. An unofficial holiday in the US, “Juneteenth” marks the emancipation of slaves in the American South.
In an interview with FOX News—the US’s most well-known conservative news source—President Trump responded to allegations that the date of his Rally was disrespectful by saying that his political rallies should be seen as a “celebration,” adding that “in the history of politics… there’s never been any group or any person that’s had rallies like I do.”
Later in the same interview, Trump claimed that, out of all the US Presidents, he has done the most for Black Americans.
These comments come in the wake of the now-international George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery protests.
Not even a week apart, Trump also tweeted that Black Lives Matter protesters in the state of Washington were “domestic terrorists” who needed to be handled by military forces.
Tulsa Race Massacres
Considering the date of the Rally, the choice of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was also an opaque choice by the president’s campaign office.
Oklahoma recently honored the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacres.
From May 31 to June 1, 1921, one of the most prosperous black communities in the United States was burned to the ground. Nicknamed “Black Wall Street” the community of Greenwood, Tulsa had some of the most successful Black-owned businesses, schools, churches, and representatives in the whole country.
Greenwood was burned to the ground after a young Black man allegedly tripped while entering an elevator and grabbed the arm of a young white woman to steady himself. The woman screamed.
The next day, the Tulsa Tribune ran a front-page story headlined, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator.” Although the Tulsa Archives has removed all copies of this newspaper, there are reports that the newspaper also ran an advertisement with the title, “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”
In the following days, police arrested and detained more than 6,000 Black Tulsans—some for up to eight days. An estimated 300 Black community members were killed and more than 30 blocks of Black-owned businesses, homes, and community centers were destroyed.
Survivors of the massacre reported that the white mob fired on the community with guns, hand held explosives, and incendiary devices—some dropped from locally-owned airplanes.
Despite the recent anniversary of the Massacre and the correlation of the Juneteenth holiday, on June 15, Governor Stitt invited President Trump and Vice President Pence to visit the Greenwood community.
On June 17, after backlash from Black leadership, Governor Stitt retracted his invitation and encouraged the President not to visit Greenwood—citing that the president’s Secret Service team would cause “disruptions” to the Juneteenth celebrations.
In an interview with Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, State Senator Kevin Matthews, said: “We’re imploring the president not to come to the sacred area of Greenwood and interfere with our most important holiday for black people. It just would pour flames on the situation instead of watering the seeds of relationships that could be developed.”
In response to the concerns from the Black community, in addition to the national and local pushback against the Rally in Tulsa, the president made one concession: His rally would be moved to June 20, a Saturday.
Despite the change, the Trump Campaign reports that more than one million Americans have registered for the event (though many are from an anti-Trump online campaign that attempted to register for the events in order to take spots away from supporters). When asked to verify these numbers, the Campaign was reportedly unable to do so. Consequently, Tulsa officials are currently preparing for no more than one hundred thousand people at the event.
Even though it is uncertain how many people will actually show up to the Rally, both supporters and protestors have been filling the local hotels in Tulsa, and dozens of tents have been set up in front of the BOK Center up to six days before the event.
This influx of people is worrying local Tulsans and surrounding towns, as fear for the safety of Black communities and the spread of the coronavirus remain extremely relevant. These fears have led to the collection of more than 100,000 signatures (or one-fifth of the population of Tulsa) to push the campaign to hold the Rally in a different city.
Ignoring the concerns of the city residents, President Trump recently tweeted:
The Far Left Fake News Media, which had no Covid problem with the Rioters & Looters destroying Democrat run cities, is trying to Covid Shame us on our big Rallies. Won’t work!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2020
Seeing the President rally his supporters behind a fervent anti-public-health message the Campaign; the BOK center—which can host almost 20,000 individuals—and the newly added Cox Convention Center—which holds 62,000 people—are working to provide masks, hand sanitizer, and temperature checks to all individuals registered for the event.
Governor Stitt is working with the president’s team to move the event to an outside arena that could possibly fit more people. However, as of June 18, there has been no substantial change.
Local News and Local Voices
Much to the disdain of the head of the US Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Anthony Fauci who has repeatedly advised against attending any rally or protest, the Campaign recently announced that social distancing and face mask-wearing will not be required at the Rally.
In response to this, David McLain, chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party, agrees that Americans have the right to choose to wear and not wear masks. In an interview with The Oklahoman, McLain said: “[Supporters] will be able to manage themselves on when they feel they should have their mask on and when they should take their mask off. I haven’t heard of any policy of mandatory mask-wearing at this point…”
In the spirit of this statement, participants interested in attending Trump’s Rally must sign a waiver that they will not sue the Campaign or the locations where the Rally will be held.
Already, in the weeks surrounding the Rally, the state statistics project that cases of coronavirus will skyrocket. On June 16, four days before the Rally, Oklahoma reported a 7.7% increase in cases—the highest in the country. This increase labeled Oklahoma as one of the nation’s hotspots.
On June 18, two days before the Rally, the Oklahoma Department of Health reported that 450 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours, the largest single-day increase since the beginning of the pandemic.
This number contributes to the 9,354 positive cases in the state. There have been 366 deaths and 7,071 recoveries.
Tulsa County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart has expressed concerns about the date of the rally, advocating for the event to be postponed in wake of the new surge of COVID-19 cases.
In an interview with Tulsa World, Dr. Dart said, “I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community, but not during a pandemic….. I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event, and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”
For the hundreds and thousands of Oklahomans, myself included, who wear masks, avoid crowded areas, and disapprove of thousands of people traveling into the state, the Rally is a terrifying idea.
It is inconceivable that any state that hosts large gatherings and events—especially ones where so many people voluntarily travel to a crowded indoor arena, ignore social-distancing, and do not wear masks—will not see a massive spike in positive cases. This is especially true with a state that was so recently ranked as ill-prepared (45th out of 50) in coronavirus response.
As an Oklahoman, I genuinely feel that this rally is not in the best interest of any people—supporters, protestors, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and people who do not care at all—alike. This Rally is also not in the best interest of America, or the world. As President Trump advocates for an open economy and more domestic and international travel, he is essentially ignoring all public health warnings about a potential second wave of COVID-19.
I am incredibly nervous as I wonder what will happen when people attended the Rally (which, reminder, is just the first of many scheduled events), are exposed to the virus, travel back to their home towns, spread the virus, and board the planes and public transport systems that are slowly becoming more available?
What will the infection and the death toll be in two weeks? Two months?
I know that there is no way to perfectly contain a pandemic, and that it is impossible to curb human action in such a way that such an infectious virus will not become transmissible, but that doesn’t mean we can just ignore it.
I see the actions of the president and his campaign as politically-inspired public endangerment. After considering why he chose Oklahoma, his methods for garnering support, and his comments and Tweets that so blatantly ignore American history and the coronavirus, I have come to the conclusion that President Trump is more concerned about his re-election than protecting the people on whom his vote depends.