Though live entertainment is still on pause throughout the country, the president is reviving his favorite show for a summer tour: On Wednesday, Trump announced he would be holding his first rally since March 2, when he was still comparing the coronavirus to the flu. Over three months and 112,000 American deaths later, he will hold a campaign rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a new crisis to dismiss.
Amidst the outrage over the police killing of George Floyd, the choice of the date and location for the rally may not be coincidental. Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 on which slaves in Texas were informed of the Emancipation Proclamation; the oldest holiday celebrating the end of slavery, it is celebrated in all but four states. And in Tulsa — 99 years to the day before the death of George Floyd — a white mob, with bombing support from private aircraft, attacked African-American residents in the city’s Greenwood district, killing as many as 300, destroying millions in property, and leaving some 10,000 black Oklahomans homeless. It’s possible that Trump, never a student of history — let alone of the country’s long register of horrific acts of violence against black Americans — may not be aware of the confluence of the two details. (The White House did, however, issue a presidential message to “all those commemorating Juneteenth” last year.) It’s also possible that someone in an administration that has defined itself on law and order is aware of the message of holding a rally on a prominent black holiday in a city known for one of the nation’s single most destructive acts of racist violence for a president who encouraged the shooting of demonstrators in black neighborhoods.
Trump’s reaction to the unrest over police brutality is just one crisis swirling around the gathering in Tulsa. As states continue to set records for new daily COVID-19 cases, bringing together thousands of people in one location could lay the groundwork for a local spike in transmission. (It was not announced if the rally will be held indoors or outdoors, though in May, Trump said his summer rallies may be open air.) With the efficacy of masks almost fully established among scientific researchers, risk could be mitigated if attendees wore PPE, as many protestors throughout the country have done. But the New York Times reports that “Trump campaign officials are unlikely to put into place any social distancing measures for rally attendees, or require them to wear masks, people familiar with the decision-making process said.” The Times also reports that the president — obsessed since day one with crowd size — doesn’t intend to limit the capacity of the venue, as the administration’s own guidelines demand.
A campaign official told Fox News on Wednesday that the site was chosen because Oklahoma was already in phase three of its reopening, which still requires “large venues” to “operate under limited physical distancing protocols.” Trump also announced that he would soon hold rallies in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina — states that are currently experiencing spikes in new cases.
Hopefully, the site in Tulsa will be safe enough for one of the reported rationales for the return of the MAGA rallies. According to ABC News, sources in the campaign and administration hope that “giving the president the platform again of massive crowds will provide him with an opportunity to air his grievances and move on, rather than harping on issues that have been unhelpful to his re-election efforts” — issues like accusing a 75-year-old assaulted by a police officer of being an outside agitator. Judging from past precedent of Trump rallies in the midst of a crisis, this is a misbegotten hope: On the night he was impeached, the president suggested that the late Democratic representative John Dingell was “looking up” at him from hell.