When President Trump announced last week that he intended to hold a raucous political rally in the city of Tulsa on June 19, it was met with outcry for a variety of reasons. For starters, June 19, known as “Juneteenth,” is considered a holiday to many as the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. To fix the date issue, the rally was changed to Saturday, June 20.
However, the real issue that most media analysts and pundits, along with and some health officials, are now concerned with is a massive gathering, at an indoor arena, when Coronavirus is still spreading and large gatherings are still disallowed in many states.
Some media stories are calling the rally “idiocy,” such as this article by Kent Sepkowitz, a medical analyst, at CNN:
I will focus on the remarkable idiocy of staging a large indoor public gathering in Tulsa just now.
Tulsa may not be the single worst place in the US to have a mask-free and liability-free rally, though the just identified Whirlpool plant outbreak there may place it in the running.
Indeed, cases are going up sharply in Tulsa County (from 7-day rolling average of 13.6 cases to 53.37 cases for most recent two weeks) signaling substantial community transmission. The disease appears disproportionately concentrated among Hispanics who constitute 13% of the population but 27% of the Covid-19 cases.
Furthermore, Tulsa is near the border of several states; Trump’s rally is likely to draw from these areas as well. Over in Arkansas, four counties at the Oklahoma border — Benton, Washington (home of Fayetteville), Crawford, and Sebastian (home of Fort Smith) — have experienced sharply increasing case rates in the last two weeks.
Following suit, an opinion writer in the New York Times also made the case that the rally itself “endangers” Trump’s supporters, and the President is unwise to hold such an event and play with life or death issues such as Covid-19:
For Trump’s triumphal return, his campaign has decided that no social distancing is required. He wants this to be a spectacle, packed with as much noisy adoration as possible.
But whatever risks those attending might incur, Team Trump is taking steps to ensure that it bears none. All rally attendees must sign a liability waiver holding the campaign legally blameless in the event that people subsequently fall sick. Or drop dead.
Over the weekend, Tulsa’s top health official, noting that coronavirus cases are spiking in the state, implored the campaign to postpone the party. But what is the health of his followers to Mr. Trump compared with a mass show of affection — especially after he has endured so many sad weeks without such affirmation?
As anyone following Donald Trump for any extended length of time will tell you, if the media is cheerleading against the President doing something that his base supports, you can bet your last dollar he’s going to do it, and do it bigger than originally planned.
In fact, despite the well-known and publicized risk, the Trump campaign says more than 1 million have requested tickets to the Tulsa event which is slated to be held in an arena that holds 19,000 people. The request is so large, in fact, that the Oklahoma Governor, Keven Stitt, is now seeking a larger venue:
Gov. Kevin Stitt said Monday after talking with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that nearly one million people have requested tickets to the event. Some Trump supporters have already started waiting in line outside the 19,000-seat BOK Center in downtown Tulsa.
“We’re excited we’re being recognized as one of the first states to safely and measurably reopen,” Stitt told reporters Monday. “I’m looking for a potential other venue that maybe we could move it outside. It’s still kind of in the works.”
A larger, outdoor venue might be more desirable from a public health perspective so long as a sizable location is found. Media pundits and analysts write stories as if the knowledge of contracting or spreading Coronavirus exists in a vacuum. There is no doubt that everyone—everyone—is well aware that Covid-19 can be deadly, and that it can spread in large groups, etc.. The warnings have been so strong since March, that many people are simply starting to go on with life since some of the direst predictions, such as millions dead, simply haven’t come to fruition and hospitals remain underwhelmed, in most areas, by the number of cases requiring hospitalizations.
In this context, the demand for the Tulsa rally makes sense on both counts. Trump wants to do it because he wants to get back to his large rallies, and supporters want to do it to prove they’re more in tune with the President’s message than with just about anyone else, especially media pundits and writers.
Mask or no mask? The President has famously avoided wearing any face covering or mask in public settings, and it looks like the rally will be mask-optional, but that could be subject to change:
Oklahoma County Republican Party Chairman David McLain said Monday that the Trump campaign intends to fill every one of the venue’s seats. He said the campaign also intends to provide masks to every person who attends, although he said there won’t be a requirement to wear one.
“I haven’t heard of any policy of mandatory mask wearing at this point,” McLain said, “but that’s fluid and could possibly change.”
In any case, as is seen in public right now, mask usage varies and some wear them religiously, and some only wear them when required, such as in grocery stores depending on state orders.
In a crowded arena, with optional masks, you can guess maybe around 50% might be wearing one, give or take.
The bottom line and the point here is that regardless of what the media says, or medical analysts say, or what part of President Trump’s own Coronavirus task force says, the rally will be packed and bigger than anticipated due to the build-up. The line for Saturday’s rally is already forming:
Supporters are forming a line outside the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa ahead of President Donald Trump’s campaign rally.
So far, at least 15 to 20 people are waiting in line and camping outside for an up close look at the president.
If the media wanted to prevent the rally, it should have collectively come out and endorsed the event, praising the President for trying to help jumpstart the economy and show the country that life can go on with some simple changes in place. Instead, the same playbook continues. The media complains about what Trump is doing, Trump does it in spite of the media, supporters love Trump for spiting the media, and the media complains that they were spited. Wash, rinse, repeat next week.
In working to derail the rally, the concerns and coverage will only result in making it larger and more high-profile than it was to begin with. After all, many Americans are watching massive protests and rallies happening across the country in the name of George Floyd and wondering why one rally is better or worse than another rally as far as public health goes.