When a problem arose, President Harry Truman said: “The buck stops here.” President Donald Trump just says he’s not responsible.
By scheduling his first campaign rally since March 2 for Saturday, the president has effectively declared an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and sickened more than 2 million with no end in sight. The rally is set to take place in a Tulsa, Oklahoma, arena with a capacity of about 20,000. The president wants it, and an overflow venue, filled to the rafters.
In Tulsa and across Oklahoma, coronavirus cases have spiked since early June. The director of Tulsa’s Health Department has said, ”A large indoor rally with 19 to 20,000 people is a huge risk factor today in Tulsa, Oklahoma.” He added: “It’s a perfect storm that we can’t afford to have.” The risk is that much greater because this will likely be a vintage Trump rally with no social distancing or masks required or even encouraged — none of that sissy scientific correctness.
There is one requirement, though, and that’s a waiver. It reads: “By clicking the register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.” The president is not responsible.
The date of the rally is another problem. Whether by accident or design, the rally was originally set for June 19. That happens to be Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when the last slaves in the Confederacy, in Texas, were finally freed. It took two and half years for news of the Emancipation Declaration to reach Texas.
Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated by millions of people — not a federal holiday, but a holiday nonetheless. The Trump rally was just moved back a day at the suggestion of “many of my African American friends and supporters,” the president said. Probably the firestorm of criticism from all quarters played into the decision.
Then there’s the question of even holding the rally in Tulsa, where 99 years ago on June 1, whites leveled the city’s Greenwood District, home to such a vibrant, prosperous African American community that it was known as the Black Wall Street. Some residents managed to flee. An estimated 100 to 300 were killed; 6,000 were interned and many were left homeless. No charges were ever brought.
And Tulsa isn’t the end of this saga. On Aug. 27, Trump is scheduled to accept his party’s nomination in Jacksonville, Florida. As it happens, in Jacksonville Aug. 27 will be commemorated as Ax Handle Saturday. It marks the day when, 60 years ago, some 200 whites armed with ax handles and baseball bats attacked young NAACP members sitting in at “whites-only” lunch counters. This year Jacksonville residents will gather to commemorate the day while less than a mile away Trump will speak in an arena filled to the rafters with people who likely won’t be wearing masks.
Will delegates be asked to sign a waiver? Will this never end?
Judith Keenan of Deer Isle taught school in the U.S. and Africa and worked in the U.S. House and Senate, including for Sen. Edmund Muskie.