6 minute read

This weekend, an endlessly needy man-child will descend upon Tulsa and, after demanding never-ending fealty from his followers and having seemingly run out of non-lethal means for them to prove their total obeisance to him, will turn to lethal means.

On June 10, when President Donald Trump announced that he would stage a campaign rally in Tulsa, his first since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, it struck me as the ne plus ultra of his attack on this nation.

By scheduling it for June 19, the anniversary of Emancipation Day in 1865 called “Juneteenth,” in a city where the worst massacre of African Americans took place 99 years ago, Trump was fulfilling the white supremacist dreams of every Stephen Miller in America: to cram rock salt into our nation’s racial wounds.

Ultimately, this dog whistle to Trump’s allies in white supremacy was a bridge too far amid protests against white-on-black police violence, and Trump’s team rescheduled the event for the following day, June 20.

Opinion

Opinion

by George Lang, opinion writer for Free Press

But it was not just the symbolism of bringing a hate rally to a city still wrestling with its racist past that makes Trump’s Tulsa event at BOK Center so indefensible.

This rally takes place at a time when Oklahoma faces the highest rates of COVID-19 infection since the beginning of the pandemic.

Thursday’s Oklahoma State Health Department numbers show a dramatic one-day increase of 450 cases breaking Wednesday’s record of an increase of 259 over Tuesday. And the trend line itself – normally a more moderate number than daily spikes – is spiking, too, reaching an even higher level than the peak around April 1.

Regardless of what the state’s notoriously anti-masker governor says, OU Medicine’s Dr. Dale Bratzler reported this week that the increase in reported coronavirus infections in Oklahoma are not due to increased testing. According to Bratzler, testing has actually decreased in the state, and most new cases are coming from Tulsa County.

But Bratzler had even worse news when he spoke to The Oklahoman for a June 17 story.

“It is the density of people in an enclosed space that translates into spread of the infection,” Bratlzer told The Oklahoman’s Randy Ellis. “I don’t care what event it is, if you bring a lot of people into a space that’s relatively closed, there’s an increased risk of transmission. … The No. 1 intervention you can do to help protect yourself and the people around you is to wear a mask. So I would strongly encourage anybody going out into any public setting … that they wear a mask.”

According to the Trump campaign, masks will be passed out as his acolytes file into the BOK Center on Saturday, and Bratzler said that masks reduce spread of COVID-19 by 85 percent when used.

But I predict that the masks will be used as props, destroyed by many of the Trump faithful to show solidarity with a little, little man who will, in all likelihood, not be wearing a mask. I believe that some masks will be burned or otherwise stomped upon in an expression of total allegiance to a man, not a flag or a country.

This is what Trump wants. He relishes the idea that people will put their lives on the line to secure what he hopes might be his indefinite power in the aftermath of a cratered democracy.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and U.S. Rep. Jim Inhofe will be there to display their own craven subservience to Trump. Both men are notorious downplayers of COVID-19’s dangers.

Stitt’s half-hearted measures to contain the virus in Oklahoma barely lasted one month before he began to impetuously reopen the state, visiting businesses while refusing to wear a mask. In March, Inhofe (ever the toxically masculine denier of science) offered to shake hands with a reporter who asked him about the U.S. response to the virus.

But then there are the other state officials who could have said or done something to stop the rally, but turned tail when doing so would earn the ire of Dear Leader. On June 17, Lance Frye, the new Oklahoma commissioner of health, told reporters that “It’s not my place to say whether I think the rally is a good idea or not.”

If it is not the state Department of Health commissioner’s “place to say,” the person in charge of directing Oklahoma’s health policy and responses, then there is no one at the helm. This profile in cowardice is endemic of the extraordinary leadership void in Oklahoma at a time when true heroes are needed.

At the center of that void sits Tulsa mayor G.T. Bynum, who could have blocked the event from taking place. But because he fears the tweets that would come from Trump and the backlash from the president’s followers, Bynum will allow BOK Center to become an incubator for COVID-19.

“I also will not attempt to block the state government or the President of the United States by invoking the local civil emergency authority in our city ordinance,” Bynum wrote on Facebook. “That authority was used earlier this year under extraordinary circumstances to prevent the catastrophic collapse of our local health care system. Today, that system’s capacity is strong.”

As the Republican National Convention moved on to Jacksonville, Florida after North Carolina officials insisted on social distancing measures, so would Trump move his hate rally elsewhere. But Bynum caved. and while he claims that Tulsa’s health care system’s “capacity is strong,” it will be put under extreme duress in the coming weeks.

While Bynum will not attend the rally, his unwillingness to stand up to Trump will serve as his proxy. His lack of spine when confronted by a political bully will be Bynum’s legacy.

Bynum is a perfect example of what former Republican strategist Rick Wilson described in his 2018 book, Everything Trump Touches Dies. From the title onward, Wilson posits that those who enter Trump’s orbit, acquiesce to his demands or otherwise allow themselves to be co-opted by him will reap the whirlwind.

“Now, the disease of Trumpism has consumed the Republican Party and put the entire conservative movement at risk,” Wilson wrote. “It has been hijacked by a bellowing, statist billionaire with poor impulse control and a profoundly superficial understanding of the world. The blazing, white-hot embrace of actual, honest-to-God stupidity has been as contagious as smallpox and as fatal as Ebola.”

The darkly funny thing is that Wilson, one of the great wits of modern political discourse, used diseases as similes for the Trump contagion. Now, there is a real-world disease threatening our state and our nation, and Trump is leveraging the dangers of coronavirus as a loyalty test.

The title of Wilson’s book has become not just prophetic, but literal. He is the modern Rev. Jim Jones, presiding over what threatens to become an actual death cult. And because city and state leaders could not muster the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Trump, Tulsa is now his Jonestown.


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