President Donald Trump ignored recent health concerns over the spread of COVID-19 at his upcoming Tulsa rally. Ava DeSantis writes about what this should say to his supporters: he does not care.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump will host a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, despite the inherent risk to his supporters. The rally, previously scheduled for Friday, June 19th, was rescheduled after backlash over the date and location of the event.
In 1921, a white mob attacked the Black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, colloquially known as “Black Wall Street” because it was economically prosperous, with guns and explosives. Almost 300 Black residents died in the attack and about 1,000 Black-owned businesses and homes were destroyed.
Juneteenth celebrates the anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved people in Texas on June 19th, 1865. Texas received the proclamation months after the end of the Civil War, but enslaved people there did not become aware of that until Juneteenth. Critics called the combination of choosing Tulsa for a rally on Juneteenth a symbolically racist signal to the white supremacist portion of Trump’s base. Kamala Harris, a Democratic Senator for California, said of the original date “this isn’t just a wink to white supremacists – he’s throwing them a welcome home party.”
Trump initially rebuffed his critics, telling Fox News “think about it as a celebration. My rally is a celebration. In the history of politics, I think I can say there’s never been any group or any person that’s had rallies like I do.” He later agreed to postpone the rally to Saturday, explaining on twitter “we had previously scheduled our #MAGA Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for June 19th — a big deal. Unfortunately, however, this would fall on the Juneteenth Holiday. Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out of respect for this Holiday and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents. I have therefore decided to move our rally to Saturday, June 20th, in order to honor their requests.”
Trump’s campaign also faced much backlash from health officials and Tulsa local officials over the spread of COVID-19 at the event. His campaign made no concessions to protect his supporters.
Local health concerns
A local newspaper’s editorial board, the Tulsa World, published an op-ed entitled “This is the wrong time and Tulsa is the wrong place for the Trump rally.” The op-ed criticized the rally on the grounds that it would be dangerous for the attendees, and draw protestors whose presence would magnify the public health crisis of the event.
“We don’t know why [Trump] chose Tulsa, but we can’t see any way that his visit will be good for the city,” the board wrote. “Tulsa is still dealing with the challenges created by a pandemic. The city and state have authorized reopening, but that doesn’t make a mass indoor gathering of people pressed closely together and cheering a good idea. There is no treatment for COVID-19 and no vaccine. It will be our health care system that will have to deal with whatever effects follow.”
Preemptively addressing backlash over the board taking sides in an election year, the board claimed “the public health concern would apply whether it were Donald Trump, Joe Biden or anyone else who was planning a mass rally…”
The Tulsa public health director, Bruce Dart, supported The World’s position and told the paper in an interview he is “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. I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.” Health department data shows Tulsa County with an increase in the rolling average of COVID-19 cases from 24.9 cases on June 7th, to 51.4 on the 12th. Dart said this recent “significant increase in our case trends” makes the event particularly concerning. Trump’s campaign refused CNN’s request for comment on Dart’s concerns.
He attributes the recent increase in cases largely to highly attended private events with hazards similar to a Trump rally, “there was a funeral that had a large attendance, and we’re finding quite a few cases from that.”
Trump team response
On Sunday, Republican Senator James Lankford, scheduled to appear at Trump’s rally, said on ABC’s This Week “everyone needs to be able to take responsibility for their own health.” This seems to be the theme of Trump’s response to COVID-19 concerns at the event. His campaign team added to the registration form for the rally a waiver, which reads “by clicking to register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”
The Trump campaign’s focus on removing themselves from liability and disregard for the health of his supporters is a significant attitude change from when Trump first took office. In a 2017 Washington Post interview, he promised supporters “we’re going to have [health] insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” He now warns his supporters not to come to him if they catch a deadly disease at his events.
Sen. Lankford did encourage high-risk individuals to “not get involved in any location, whether that be a rally or other higher-risk locations,” in the same interview. He concluded, “so, high-risk folks need to be able to step back and everybody needs to be able to take responsibility for their own health.” The White House’s economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, recommended that attendees “observe the safety guidelines” and wear face coverings. The campaign would not confirm any intention to enforce these guidelines at the rally.
Brad Parscale, Trump campaign manager, rationalized upcoming campaign events on CNN, saying “Americans are ready to get back to action and so is President Trump.” His aides say Trump became more anxious to get back on the campaign trail after witnessing the George Floyd protests of recent weeks.
Trump supporters at risk
An op-ed appearing in The Federalist on June 10th, argued “we have held presidential elections through wars, depressions, riots, all manner of societal rough and tumble. There is no reason, especially given the recent displays of massive protest that this election should look or feel much different.”
Conservative news outlets seem to agree that campaign events should resume, but the demographics of Trump’s supporters in the media and in life are vastly different. The thesis that Trump won his 2016 campaign because working-class whites struggled economically. Even with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Trump still has working-class support and economic anxiety was a contributing factor to his victory. In 2016, he won most countries where a large share of “jobs are vulnerable to outsourcing or autonomy,” FiveThirtyEight contributor Jed Kolko wrote.
A recent poll of 2,000 Americans concluded that 54% of Americans say they are not financially able to handle the consequences of contracting an infectious disease, like COVID-19. The economic anxiety Kolko describes, which would make medical costs a major stressor, is much more prevalent in coal country, than in the Federalist newsroom or Trump’s campaign offices, for that matter.
The campaign did not take the economic conditions of his supporters, and potential attendees of his rally, into account when planning this event. The team, who even responded to the concerns of Democrats over the racial politics of the event, did not take seriously the health of his own supporters seriously. Trump’s Tulsa rally should disclose to supporters: he doesn’t care about you.