According to the publicity, Trump’s campaign rally on June 20 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was going to be a repeat of the large, raucous adulations during his 2016 election campaign.
A million people had sought to get tickets, we were told. There would be two rallies, one inside the arena, seating 19,000 people, and a bigger open air overflow rally of 40,000-80,000 people.
The big day came. People who had reserved tickets and travelled to Tulsa from other cities and states waited hours (in some cases days) outside the arena. They were joined by locals.
As the day wore on, however, the few people who wandered into the outside rally were urged to go inside. The overflow event never materialised. As the audience finally took their seats in the arena, TV cameras showed the upper balcony was nearly empty. The Tulsa fire department confirmed that only 6200 people turned out to hear Trump.
Trump chose Oklahoma, a state he overwhelmingly carried in 2016, counting on a big turnout for his first rally in months.
Trump attacks the left
The New York Times reported that Trump’s attempt to revive his reelection campaign had “sputtered badly”.
“[Trump] delivered a disjointed speech that did not address the multiple crises facing the nation or scandals battering him in Washington.”
Trump took credit for the recovery of the US stock market, but failed to take up the suffering of the millions of unemployed, underemployed and small family businesses, which have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the NYT, Trump’s “rambling, grievance-filled remarks” made no mention of the Tulsa “Black Wall Street” massacre of 1921, nor George Floyd’s death at the hands of white cops in Minneapolis, which “sparked global demands for racial justice”.
Trump also made no mention of Juneteenth (June 19), which marks the end of slavery in the US and fell the day before his rally. Trump had originally chosen June 19 for his Tulsa rally, but was forced to move it due to public backlash.
“Instead, the president railed about ‘left-wing radicals’ who he falsely claimed were rioting in cities across the country and praised police officers,” said the NYT.
Trump accused the “unhinged left-wing mob” of “trying to vandalise our history, desecrate our [Confederate] monuments, our beautiful monuments, tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute, total control”.
However, if anyone is punishing and persecuting “anyone who does not conform” to his “demands for absolute, total control” it is Trump. Just a few days after the rally, Trump took to Twitter to threaten to arrest and jail (for up to 10 years) “anyone who vandalises or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property,” and tweeted “Beware!”.
Trump held his rally, with people in close contact, most not wearing masks, in a city experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases. In spite of local health officials warning that the rally could result in a new upsurge, his actions are in keeping with his demand that the economy be fully reopened, to bolster his election prospects.
Six members of Trump’s team sent to Tulsa to organise the rally became infected with COVID-19, as were two members of the Secret Service preparing for his visit. Trump was reportedly furious that these facts were given to the media by his own campaign.
Trump again blamed China for the 120,000 (or more) deaths in the US from the virus, ignoring his own responsibility for its spread, and referred to the virus by the racist term “Kung Flu”.
Astonishingly, Trump said that since COVID-19 testing increases the number of known cases, he is ordering that testing be slowed down. Clearly, finding new cases doesn’t look good for him.
Previously, Trump made the comment that people were wearing face masks to discredit him.
The day after the rally, his spokespeople vociferously assured the media that Trump was “just joking” about cutting back on testing. The next day he refuted them, saying he “doesn’t joke”.
In his Tulsa speech, Trump accused Minnesota Congressperson Ilhan Omar, a Black, Muslim woman born in Somalia, of wanting to turn America into a failed state “just like the country from where she came”.
Black Lives Matter
Trump’s son Eric spoke at the event, referring to Black Lives Matter protesters as “animals”.
Trump also spent 20 minutes refuting media claims that he looked shaky at a previous event, not wanting to let his followers think he has any health problems.
Protesters demonstrated outside the event. In spite of Trump’s threat to unleash violence against them, none materialised.
One protester, a 62-year-old art teacher and grandmother, was handcuffed and arrested at the request of the Trump campaign, even though she had reserved a ticket, according to Democracy Now!
She told DN! she was “inspired to protest after years of witnessing her Black students suffer from racism” and plans to sue the city, the police department and the Trump campaign.
Trump and his spokespeople blamed the empty seats on protesters and the media. However, no protesters were allowed anywhere near the arena entrance, where people calmly filed in without incident. Presumably, Trump blamed the media for saying that the Tulsa health authorities warned that attending the rally could spread COVID-19.
Pandemic far from over
Trump is again saying that COVID-19 has been defeated in the US, but the facts say otherwise. Twenty-nine states have reported a rise in cases. These are largely states that reopened without adequate safety measures. This is not a “new wave” of infections, but a continuation of the first wave. While new cases fell from a high of about 30,000 a day, they have plateaued at about 20,000 a day.
This contrasts to most other advanced capitalist countries, where the number of new cases has fallen, but not reached a plateau. In those countries, there are vigorous, nationally organised testing campaigns. In the US, the Trump administration has left testing up to the states, without adequate funding.
With the new surge in cases, the seven-day average of new cases is climbing again. On one day, new cases reached 30,000 again and then dropped to about 27,000. Hospitalisations, which lag new cases, are also rising, as will deaths.
In Florida, which reopened willy-nilly in most areas, the number of new cases is growing exponentially, doubling every few days. This is what happened in New York City, when it became the global epicentre of COVID-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
Did the upsurge in cases in Tulsa affect the turnout for Trump’s rally? Regardless of the answer, it will become much harder to find venues for the kind of rallies Trump wants – packed, shoulder to shoulder, mass events. The pandemic will continue to have an effect on the economy and the elections.
The other factor affecting the turnout in Tulsa was the mass uprising against police violence and institutional racism gripping the country. The deepening Black Lives Matter movement has demoralised white racists, dampening their enthusiasm. Many whites are shedding their passive racism, as the movement exposes more and more aspects of the systematic oppression of Blacks, and its long history.
From the start of his 2016 election campaign to the present, Trump has presented himself as a “strongman” who can “make America great again”. He is now saying repeatedly that the 2020 elections will be rigged against him, and hints that he might refuse to accept any result that goes against him. Many in the media are wondering if he will even allow the elections to take place, possibly using the pandemic as an excuse.
Trump’s authoritarian aspirations are becoming more evident. Top Republicans openly affirm they are for a “strong executive”. That is one of the reasons they back Trump. Members of the reactionary wing of the Supreme Court have the same views. Obviously, a wing of the ruling class is backing them.
The most important force blocking Trump is the mass Black Lives Matter uprising. There is growing understanding within the movement that their fight goes way beyond elections. Every indication is that the movement will not be silenced this autumn, out of concern for not upsetting the boat for the Democrats, but will continue beyond November, unlike many others.
At least, there is real hope this will be the case.