Friday night and the Sunset Strip here is quiet. Almost everything on the Strip has been closed for weeks, and the massive Black Lives Matter protests that jammed all of Hollywood last weekend – ten thousand people marching from Hollywood and Vine right past the front door here and then on down to the Pacific Design Center, where Elton John holds his Oscar party each year – all of that seems to be over, at least for now. Some of it was pretty cool but now the action is elsewhere.
Forget Hollywood. Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the new center of everything, at least for one weekend. It was the perfect storm – a massive angry White political rally at the peak of a pandemic in the middle of the sort of racial upheaval that the nation hasn’t seen in sixty years, at the site of the massacre of hundreds of black Americans by a white American mob ninety-nine years ago, in the middle of an epic economic collapse. It all came together in Tulsa.
What could go wrong? The New York Times’ Astead Herndon sets the scene:
In a city that has become known as a landmark to black pain, Friday was a day for black joy. More than a thousand people gathered along Greenwood Avenue – the site of one of America’s worst racist attacks – to celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates when enslaved black Americans in Texas formally learned of emancipation.
In any year, Juneteenth in Tulsa means something different than it does in other cities, according to black residents. The exuberance more palpable, the music more soulful, against the backdrop of the 1921 white riot that killed an estimated 300 black Tulsans and destroyed the area once known as “Black Wall Street.”
“We’re celebrating the emancipation of slaves, but we’re really celebrating the idea of being black,” said Jacquelyn Simmons, who has lived in Tulsa for 45 years. “We love it and we love us.”
And then Donald Trump stepped in:
Organizers planned to cancel their annual Juneteenth celebration amid the national coronavirus pandemic. Then President Trump announced a campaign rally in the city, originally slated to be held on the Friday holiday but later moved to Saturday evening.
With that event looming, and national protests raging about racial injustice and police brutality, what was typically a celebration of resilience had transformed into one of defiance. “Black Lives Matter” was painted in bright yellow letters across Greenwood Avenue. Attendees said they were celebrating not only how black ancestors were freed from enslavement, but also the persistence of black Americans today – from a pandemic that has disproportionately affected black communities, police departments that disproportionately kill black people, and a president who has shown little willingness to acknowledge the reality of both.
This was going to be a party. Now it will be a statement. They had this. Trump didn’t need to mess things up again:
For decades, white and black Tulsans refused to talk about the events of May 31, 1921, when a black man who worked as a shoe shiner was accused of assaulting a white woman. State history textbooks long ignored how a white mob formed at the courthouse where the man was being held, setting off a confrontation with armed members of the local black population. The city is still grappling with what happened next: A horde of thousands targeted the prosperous black businesses that were scattered on Greenwood Avenue, looting stores, burning homes in the neighborhood and killing several hundred black residents, according to witness accounts.
Much has changed in recent years, as “racial reconciliation” has become the city’s unofficial mantra, complete with street names and philanthropic efforts, supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. What it means, according to Hannibal Johnson – a professor of African-American history and a Tulsa historian – is a three-step process of “acknowledgment, apology and atonement.” It’s a process he believes could set an example for the rest of the country.
Acknowledgment, apology, atonement – Donald Trump sneers at such things. All three are sign of weakness. All three are for losers, and that changes everything:
Of Mr. Trump’s rally, Dr. Johnson said, “the timing has been especially troublesome given the rhetoric and the actions” of the president.
“We’re a community that’s been working a long time toward this reconciliation as it regards to race,” he said. “And this rally is seen – particularly by progressive people – as partisan and unhelpful to that cause.”
But everyone knows Trump by now. Reconciliation is for losers. And he has now made reconciliation pointless for both sides:
Friday’s events paid homage to the city’s history and vibrant community. Bands performed on a large stage adorned with a “Juneteenth” banner. Vendors sold food and trinkets from local black businesses. Midday, around 100 protesters marched with a coffin draped in an American flag from Greenwood Avenue to the Tulsa County Courthouse.
In the evening, the Rev. Al Sharpton took the stage and led a chant of “No justice! No peace!” He called for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday, before moving to criticism of Mr. Trump’s signature slogan. Mr. Sharpton challenged those who say “Make America Great Again” to name the date when America was “great for everyone,” and free from injustice.
Trump wasn’t right there to shout out 1953, but it didn’t matter:
Just blocks from the Juneteenth celebration a sea of Mr. Trump’s supporters braved rainstorms and 90-degree heat near the venue where he would be speaking, lining up 24 hours before the rally was set to begin… Outside the arena, his supporter base of overwhelmingly white Americans traded stories of grievance, praising a president who they believe is the buffer between them and a rapidly changing country.
At the Juneteenth celebration, officially titled “I, too, am America: Juneteenth for Justice,” a racially diverse crowd saw a link between past and present, a through-line between the white anger that once set Greenwood Avenue ablaze and the coalition that elected Mr. Trump after eight years of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president.
Charman Sanders, 70, a black Tulsa resident whose family in the region dates back to 1921, said there was no way to see Mr. Trump’s actions as anything other than “disrespectful.”
“Trump is going to be down there,” she said, pointing toward the Tulsa stadium where the president is slated to appear. “And we’re going to be down here. That’s the way I look at it.”
Fine. Trump is itching for a fight. His people will beat the crap out of someone, who he will be able to say deserved that. If it’s the other way around, fine Americans are being attacked by the George Soros radical left that hates America and must be put down. Either way is good, but this is not the way that Tulsa has been handling this:
Members of the centennial commission said, if anything, the president’s rally distracts from how Tulsa can be a model for how both parties can unite behind the need for racial reconciliation – citing the involvement of [Oklahoma Republican Senator James] Lankford and the city’s Republican mayor, G. T. Bynum. They took pride in recent gestures by city leaders, which include a reconciliation dinner where residents eat a meal with a stranger and a recent apology by the Tulsa Police Department for its role in the 1921 killings.
But leaders are also clear-eyed regarding the city’s persistent inequalities. Earlier this year, Mr. Bynum and his police chief, who is black, condemned an officer who appeared on a radio program and said, “We’re shooting African-Americans about 24 percent less than we probably ought to be, based on the crimes being committed.”
This is a work in progress, but it was working, and now it can’t work:
In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Trump claimed credit for popularizing the Juneteenth holiday, though its origins date more than 150 years. “I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” he said, referring to news coverage of the original rally date. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
He’d asked Ivanka. He’d asked Jared. Nobody had ever heard of it. That was news to everybody in Tulsa and a whole lot of the rest of the country, but there was no point in arguing with him, so no one did. He’s like that. It didn’t matter.
Other things mattered. The Washington Post offered this:
Tulsa was a city on edge Friday night, as Trump fans and protesters gathered in anticipation of the president’s first campaign rally in months set for Saturday, raising fears of a violent confrontation and a worsening spread of the coronavirus as local cases spike.
Authorities set up a perimeter around the 19,000-seat BOK Center in downtown Tulsa, where those eager to see Trump started lining up at midweek. Businesses around the area boarded up their windows, and the mayor issued a state of emergency and set up a curfew out of concern that outside groups were headed to town to raise trouble.
But the city announced it was rescinding the safety measures after Trump tweeted:
“I just spoke to the highly respected Mayor of Tulsa, G. T. Bynum, who informed me there will be no curfew tonight or tomorrow for our many supporters attending the #MAGA Rally,” Trump said. “Enjoy yourselves – thank you to Mayor Bynum!”
That was odd:
The city released a statement Friday explaining why they had rescinded the earlier stricter curfew that had been put in place Friday morning. The city said officials were first contacted on Thursday by the Secret Service, which asked the city of Tulsa and Tulsa Police Department to put in place a curfew around the BOK Center.
Bynum (R) said in the statement: “Last night, I enacted a curfew at the request of Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin, following consultation with the United States Secret Service based on intelligence they had received. Today, we were told the curfew is no longer necessary so I am rescinding it.”
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper (D), who represents the Greenwood District, said she was left confused by the mayor’s decision to rescind the curfew.
“I’m totally at a loss to be honest with you,” Hall-Harper said. “I don’t have words. The statement I saw didn’t set out an explanation. They were doing it for security reasons, then the president calls, according to his tweet, and now they are not. I guess security isn’t important anymore?”
She has it right. Trump seemed to want fights to break out, the nastier the better, so he could call in the Army and save the day or some such thing. The Army Air Force did bomb the Greenwood District back in 1921 – flying biplanes of course. This time it would be a B-52 or two. But that’s speculation. Trump just knew he wanted fights:
The surprise decision threw another dose of chaos into the mix, as Trump moved forward to stage a rally that was controversial on two fronts. Not only did it come in a racially torn city at a fraught moment, but it also flouted health guidelines that recommend against mass gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, with opponents of the rally on health grounds unsuccessfully pressing their objections at the state Supreme Court.
Outside the perimeter of the center Friday, Trump fans were already chanting “All lives matter” at one protester chanting and waving a “Black Lives Matter” sign.
For Trump, this was all coming together:
Friday, the Rev. Robert R.A. Turner stood in front of the Historic Vernon A.M.E. Church – where the basement was one of the few structures that survived the devastation in 1921 – and watched as crowds streamed past one group selling Black Lives Matter clothing and another registering people to vote.
“We know that people came here nearly 100 years ago and sought to destroy black Wall Street,” Turner said. “We don’t want other individuals to come finish the job. I just hope and pray that the president keeps his people calm, but I have no faith in this president. He has shown a propensity to incite violence.”
Earlier in the day, Trump on Twitter had warned that “any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma, please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”
Was he saying his supporters would shoot to kill anyone they thought might be even just thinking of making trouble? He would later clarify that – the Tulsa Police would be the ones cracking heads. Protesting could get you killed – but not by his supporters. The patriot police would take care of that, and there’s that other matter:
Although Oklahoma is a solidly Republican state, Trump campaign officials said they chose the city for Trump’s first campaign rally in months because Oklahoma is already well into reopening after the coronavirus shutdown and view it as a celebration of sorts that the worst of the crisis is over.
The point was that Oklahoma never really shut down and was fully open for business now because that minor virus thing was now as good as gone, or not:
The campaign intends to supply rally-goers with masks and hand sanitizer, but it will not be keeping attendees six feet apart.
Oklahoma’s new cases have spiked since the state moved into an aggressive reopening plan on June 1.
Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health, said Oklahoma has the second-fastest-growing per capita rate of new coronavirus infections in the country, based on a seven-day average.
As of Thursday, infections were up 140 percent in the state, according to estimates by the Federation of American Scientists.
But that didn’t matter:
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Friday rejected an appeal of a lawsuit filed on behalf of local residents, business owners and a community center in Greenwood earlier this week that had demanded that the arena’s manager adhere to social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or cancel the rally.
The city’s top health official, Bruce Dart, has said he was worried the rally could become a “super spreader” event and said Wednesday that he had recommended the rally be postponed until it was safe.
Trump people laugh at such people:
Trump’s supporters said that they were unconcerned about the perils of coronavirus or of protesters.
“I’m not going to let those people run me off,” Terri Whisenhunt, 49, of Wagoner, Okla., vowed. “And covid-19 is not going to keep me locked in my house. I think it’s all a bunch of B.S.”
She said she would not be wearing a mask inside the rally, echoing the sentiments of many of Trump’s top staffers, including press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who said Friday that no one in the administration has any reservations about going forward with the rally during the pandemic. Asked why Trump is taking the risk of spreading infection, she said, “Look, I think we’re confident we can operate safely in Tulsa.”
McEnany said she will be at the rally and will not wear a mask, which she said is a personal choice.
And the fun was just beginning:
At one point in the afternoon, a young African American man clashed with a white Trump supporter who had parked his pink bicycle with a Confederate flag flying from a pole at the intersection of West Fourth Street and Boulder Avenue.
After a scuffle over the flag, the owner of the Confederate flag pulled a knife, which he kept to his side, while the other man yelled, “Make my day.”
Trump must-have smiled. He wins, but the those damned people at Fox News undercut him again:
Most voters think large political rallies are a bad idea amid the coronavirus, according to a Fox News poll released on the eve of President Donald Trump’s campaign restart rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Voters are overwhelmingly against large political rallies, with 59 percent saying they think crowded campaign events are a bad idea, according to the poll, which Fox News conducted between June 13 and 16. About a quarter of respondents supported rallies, while 16 percent said it depended on the situation.
Most of the nation sees a jerk here, but it gets even worse for Trump:
Attendees of Trump’s Saturday rally won’t be required to wear masks, but most voters have a favorable view of people wearing masks as protection against the spread of coronavirus, according to the Fox News poll.
About 80 percent of respondents had a favorable view of masks, according to the poll, and just under 70 percent of Republicans approved of mask-wearing, compared to 89 percent of Democrats, according to the poll. And of those that “strongly approve of Trump,” 61 percent approved of face coverings.
Who is he playing to, then? No one knows, but this is the fight he wants to fight:
Health care experts have urged people to don face coverings to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far killed almost 120,000 people in the U.S. and California on Thursday announced it would require people to wear face masks in public, and many states recommend face coverings in supermarkets and on public transit.
But face coverings have become the center of the coronavirus culture war. A California health officer resigned after she received death threats for her mask mandate in Orange County, and Trump has refused to wear a mask in public despite a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That was quite the scandal out here. The health commissioner in Orange County, one county south of Los Angeles, was told she and her family would be gunned down and die if she insisted everyone wear a mask. She’s no fool. She protected her family. She quit. And then the county commissioners voted that masks would never be mandatory in the county, ever, no matter what. They didn’t go the other way and vote to make wearing masks anywhere in the county totally illegal, because this was a matter of personal choice and thus personal freedom. No one should tell anyone what to do. And then the governor dropped the bomb – the statewide order to require everyone in the state to wear face masks in public, rendering everything else quite moot. The governor can expect those death threats now. People are serious about this.
It’s the president. Dylan Scott reports this:
President Donald Trump suggested in a new interview that some Americans may be wearing masks not to prevent the spread of Covid-19 but to spite him – and that testing for the deadly coronavirus is “overrated.”
That bewildering pair of comments, delivered during his wide-ranging Wall Street Journal interview that covered everything from Trump’s upcoming campaign rally on Juneteenth to newly reported details from former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book…
Trump said explicitly that, even if there is a worrying reemergence of the virus, he would not pursue the kind of dramatic increase in testing that China did when it tested an entire city after the coronavirus appeared to be spreading widely through the community again.
“I personally think testing is overrated, even though I created the greatest testing machine in history,” Trump said, arguing that more tests means more confirmed cases. “In many ways, it makes us look bad.”
The president also allowed for the possibility that some Americans wore facial coverings not as a preventative measure but as a way to signal disapproval of him.
His supporters follow the logic. He’s the president, so that would mean that people who wear these masks hate America and everything America stands for, which is him. The logic is tautological but that’s just another big word. But of those that “strongly approve of Trump” sixty-one percent approve of face coverings. He has already lost this argument with those who love him most. Go figure.
Paul Waldman tried to sum this up:
President Trump’s first rally since the pandemic began takes place in Tulsa this Saturday, and while the content is predictable – an interminable stream-of-consciousness rant about the insufficiently worshipful news media, fake polls, aides who have betrayed him, and anyone else who happens to have aroused his ire that day – this rally will be something special.
So much of the disastrous chaos of this moment in American history is compressed into this one gathering that when the history of this presidency is written, the Tulsa rally may be the one we remember more than any other.
That’s because of this:
Trump will be packing a 19,000-seat indoor arena with people shouting and chanting and breathing in a cloud of each other’s droplets. The danger of a mass infection would be reduced if everyone wore a mask, but as we well know by now, Trump and his supporters have decided that doing so is a sign of weakness and insufficient devotion to the president. While the campaign will be handing out masks, it would be a shock if 1 out of 10 attendees wore them.
Thinking ahead, the Trump campaign decided to make everyone who attends sign a release promising not to sue the campaign if they contract the virus at the rally. Precisely no one will be surprised if, as a result of this event, hundreds or even thousands more people are infected.
And there was that threat:
While he may be unlikely to back it up, this is a clear threat of violence against protesters. Trump is implying that protesters in those cities were treated too leniently, when in fact they were met with a violent response from authorities that included tear gas, pepper spray, beatings, and police cars plowing into crowds.
Much as Trump has complained in the past that police are “too nice” to suspects, the president apparently wants protests to be met with even more brutality. Whether he’s threatening violence from the state or from his supporters is unclear.
So to sum up: Trump is holding his first mid-pandemic rally in a place and at a time guaranteed to make people angry and upset. He’s coming to a state fast becoming a coronavirus hotspot, putting on a rally almost certain to spread covid-19. In advance of the event, he’s ratcheting up tensions and threatening violence against peaceful protesters.
And there’s this:
You can bet that Trump will be absolutely jazzed for the event, and will not hold back. According to this tally, he has held 81 rallies since becoming president, but it has been three and a half months since his last one. He has plainly found the wait maddening, not only because he believes that each rally is a shot of political adrenaline that will inevitably boost his steadily falling standing, but also because he draws strength and reassurance from them.
His every day may be filled with bad news and crises he is ill-equipped to handle, but when he bathes in the fevered worship of the MAGA faithful, he knows that he is doing a terrific job and is on the way to a sweeping reelection victory.
And so it goes:
It’s possible to imagine the Tulsa rally being just one among Trump’s many. Perhaps he will be relatively restrained in his remarks. Perhaps there will be no violence, inside or out. Perhaps through some miracle, few people in the rally will be infected with covid-19.
But more likely, we’ll look back on Tulsa as the emblematic Trump rally, the one that encapsulates everything that made this presidency such a nightmare to behold.
But at least it didn’t happen here in Hollywood. This is a quiet backwater for a change. Tulsa is where it’s at. God help us all.