Donald Trump claimed on Monday that “one million people” had requested tickets for his campaign rally in Tulsa this weekend. The Tulsa World newspaper, however, backed the city’s top public health official in asking the president not to come.
The paper expressed concern in terms of both public health, because of the coronavirus pandemic, and race relations, in light of national protests against police brutality.
“We don’t know why he chose Tulsa,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote, “but we can’t see any way that his visit will be good for the city.”
Trump’s first rally since early March was moved from Friday to avoid a clash with Juneteenth, the day on which African Americans commemorate the end of slavery, in the city which in 1921 was host to one of the worst race massacres in US history.
But it will go ahead on Saturday, with the president and allies making wild claims about how many want to attend. The BOK Center venue holds a little over 19,000 people.
The US president’s return to the campaign trail is part of Trump’s attempt to reopen an economy battered by a pandemic which has killed more than 115,000 Americans. Over the weekend, cases were reported to be rising in Oklahoma and other mostly Republican-led states which have been reopening since late May.
On Saturday, the Tulsa public health director, Bruce Dart, told the World he was “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.”
Rally attendees will have to sign a waiver, saying they will not hold the Trump campaign responsible if they contract Covid-19.
Nonetheless, Trump allies including the White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and Oklahoma senator James Lankford have insisted it is safe to hold the rally.
Lankford called the reported increase in cases in his state “a little bit of a bump”.
Though Trump has rarely worn a face mask in public, as federal guidelines advise, Kudlow told CNN that attendees in Tulsa should cover their faces.
The World countered: “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 healthcare system that will have to deal with whatever effects follow.”
“The public health concern would apply whether it were Donald Trump, Joe Biden or anyone else who was planning a mass rally at the BOK. This is the wrong time.”
The original announcement that the rally would take place on Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in 1865, provoked outrage. About 300 people, mostly black, died in the Tulsa massacre in 1921. Swaths of black-owned property were destroyed by white mobs.
Citing the killing in Minneapolis on 25 May of George Floyd and national unrest over police killings, the World called Trump “a divisive figure” who “will attract protests, the vast majority of which we expect to be peaceful”.
“But there may also be confrontation and inappropriate behavior … his 2016 Tulsa rally provoked a heated response for some, and his ability to provoke opponents has only grown since then.”
In January 2016, Trump appeared with the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
On Monday, the paper said: “Tulsa will be largely alone in dealing with what happens at a time when the city’s budget resources have already been stretched thin.”
Questioning the electoral value of a rally in a state Trump won handsomely in 2016, it added: “When the president of the United States visits your city, it should be exciting. We think a Trump visit will be, but for a lot of the wrong reasons, and we can’t welcome it.”
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