DONALD TRUMP’S TULSA TRAP

Donald Trump loves rallies. He lands in his big plane with his name on the side, or now in Air Force One, and appears before an adoring, carefully selected, crowd. Those in the audience get to play their part in the festival of adoration. Trump, often in his MAGA hat (he is dealing with a working class audience), launches into a kind of stream of consciousness rant.

The goal is not to inform or to educate. It is intended to give his audience a chance to be angry with a long standing series of political villains (read Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Sleepy Joe Biden, the anti-Trump Fake News Media) and whoever else is on the president’s current hit list. His audience knows the expected chants and enthusiastically joins in. Then, as quickly as it began, Trump climbs into his plane and it’s over.

In 2016, for Donald Trump those rallies were the campaign. And, they seemed to work. In polls those rallying supporters of Trump have been remarkably and consistently supportive. Trump’s problem is that not every other group of 2016 voters has been so supportive. His level of support among women, the majority of all voters, stood at 52% in the last election. Today’s polls vary but it is clearly much lower. That does mean that the support of the largely male ralliers is increasingly crucial in this summer’s campaign.

Most president’s, sometime early in their presidency, face some kind of crisis. Their response to that crisis helps set the tone for the remainder of their term. Donald Trump seemed lucky. Then as the last year of his first term began disaster struck in the form of a virus. So, in January as the first people were effected by the coronavirus, Donald Trump had his crisis. His reaction was to deny that there was a crisis.

However, faced with rapidly rising fatalities his denial became no longer possible. Donald Trump in a series of briefings tried with uneven results to make himself the face of the federal government’s reaction. The President was awkward. The “briefings” came to be something of an embarrassment. By the end of April the administration began to go silent on the pandemic.

Now a second crisis has hit the Trump administration triggered by the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Partially motivated perhaps by the high number of pandemic fatalities among minorities, demonstrations and rioting sprang up across the country. The President made things worse by his forceful removal of demonstrators so that he could walk across from the White House to damaged St. John’s Church to wave a bible in the air.

So, with the number of pandemic fatalities in an upswing, and the national crisis over police brutality still unresolved, Donald Trump is determined to get back what he really cares about, his rallies. The first one is now scheduled for June 20th (next Saturday) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It had been first scheduled for June 19.

Trump chose Tulsa, the location of a white murder spree in 1921, killing 300 black men, women, and children. June 19 was also the date of a liberation holiday, Juneteenth, which celebrates the 1865 federal order ending all slavery. The negative reaction to holding a rally in Tulsa on that day was just too much. Trump was forced to move the rally to the next day, June 20.

But the rally is still scheduled, in a closed auditorium which holds 19,000 people. Recognizing the danger, the organizers of the rally, billed as Donald J. Trump For President, Incorporated, will force every attendee to sign a waiver freeing them from responsibility. This at a time when the virus is spiking in Tulsa and the city’s largest newspaper and its health officials are begging to have the rally called off.

Donald Trump has created his own Tulsa trap: If he fails to hold the rally (he claims that a million people have applied to come) he will look weak. And, no one worries about looking weak more than Donald Trump. He will also be closing the door on the very people whose support he so desperately needs. The irony is that if the rally had never been planned all those people would have voted for him anyway.

If he goes ahead with the rally with nineteen thousand people in a closed space shouting and cheering, the potential for spreading the virus is huge. Large numbers of his supporters could become ill and many die, and the reasons of the waiver they had all signed would be all too obvious. Donald Trump could be accused of fomenting multiple deaths among his own supporters.

One possible compromise, as attendees are reportedly already lining up to go in to the BOK Center four days before the rally, is to simply move it outdoors. Republican Governor Kevin Stitt is apparently attempting to get the Trump organization to move to an outdoor venue. That would reduce the level of Covid 19 transmission. At this writing no presidential response has been reported.

So what should he do? The Trump campaign has created a situation where they can only lose. The logical action at this point would be to cite their respect for the local authorities and call it off. The President would look weak but within a few days some new crisis would block the Tulsa Trap from the public’s memory. Still, Trump is committed and apparently huge numbers want to come. It would be difficult for any candidate to turn enthusiastic supporters away. The rally is this Saturday. Stay tuned!

H.J. Rishel

6/17/2020