President Trump and his political advisers reportedly envision his Saturday night rally in Tulsa as an epic moment that will transform his dwindling presidential campaign into a runaway freight train toward reelection. If the mask-optional indoor event becomes an epic public-health train wreck instead, it will be because Trump and his braintrust still think they can ignore or outsmart the coronavirus pandemic and the people who actually understand how the virus has spread and led to the deaths of nearly 120,000 Americans in less than four months.
NBC News reported Friday that the top two infectious-disease experts on President Trump’s conspicuously sidelined coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, “both vocalized concerns internally in the last week about the safety of holding a rally on Saturday with as many as 19,000 people in an enclosed arena.” But neither their advice, nor the well-reported warnings of countless other public-health experts, nor the concerns of Tulsa’s health director, nor the surging number of coronavirus infections in Oklahoma and numerous other states has been able to convince Trump and his campaign that the projected risk isn’t worth the imagined reward.
A legal attempt to make the event safer has also failed. On Friday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a request to require the company that manages the Bank of Oklahoma Center to halt the rally unless it enforced CDC social-distancing and face-mask guidelines inside the venue. The court ruled, unanimously, that the groups and individuals behind the challenge had no legal grounds for their request since there is no law that requires Oklahoma businesses to follow CDC guidelines. (Under Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt’s Open Up and Recover Safely Plan, businesses can use their own discretion when it comes to applying social-distancing measures — which is one of the reasons the Trump campaign chose Tulsa for the rally in the first place, and possibly one of the reasons the state’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise.) The Trump campaign has said that it will conduct temperature checks on attendees (which don’t detect all coronavirus infections), provide rallygoers with hand sanitizer and face masks (which they won’t be required to use), and make them waive their right to sue the campaign if they catch COVID-19 (which Black Lives Matter protesters — demonstrating outdoors and typically while wearing masks — so far seem not to have caught to any significant degree in recent weeks).
Trump, who on Friday morning threatened anyone planning to protest at the event, also announced that he had convinced Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum to partially lift the curfew he had ordered for the area surrounding the BOK Center so that Trump supporters camping out in line wouldn’t have to be afraid of getting arrested. Bynum had issued the curfew on Thursday after saying he had been warned that outside agitators — other than the Trump campaign — might cause problems in the city.
So it’s full steam ahead for Saturday night’s collision between Trump, tens of thousands of his supporters, an unknown number of counterprotesters, and the apolitical reality of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Thunderstorms are also expected, assuming the experts who predict future events using data, science, and professional experience can or should be trusted.