Should Trump hold a rally on Saturday amidst this pandemic?
- There's a reason this event is in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was not initially hit hard by the coronavirus and is far along in its reopening, with no restrictions on large, in-person gatherings. And so the Trump campaign intends to pack the BOK Center right up to its 19,000-seat capacity.
- Tulsa County, which includes the city of Tulsa, tallied 89 new coronavirus cases on Monday, its one-day high since the virus’s outbreak, according to the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency. The number of active coronavirus cases climbed from 188 to 532 in a one-week period, a 182-percent increase; hospitalizations with Covid-19 almost doubled.
- The Trump campaign has mandated that all potential attendees sign a registration form stating, 'by clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.'
- Health experts are warning that the President's attitude is undercutting nationwide efforts to fight the disease, and could cost lives and inflict even more damage on an economy crushed by lockdown orders. A closely watched model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington on Monday predicted more than 201,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US by October 1.
A few months ago, a court ruled that banning drive-in religious services was unconstitutional. Because cars can gather in parking lots for secular purposes, to ban cars gathering for religious reasons amounted to content-based discrimination of speech. This is prohibited by the First Amendment. So long as public health measures are enforced, the government cannot discriminate against people gathering for particular reasons. Ergo, President Trump should be able to hold rallies amidst the pandemic.
The same principle holds true for other forms of speech. If protests and other First Amendment-related activities are exempt from limits, which were initially put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus, on the size of gatherings, then these exemptions must be applied universally. To do anything less amounts to government actors picking and choosing favored speech.
While there are still causes for concern that large gatherings may spread coronavirus, people who attend large gatherings — whether protests or political rallies — are making their own determinations about whether participating in these events is worth the health risk. And they should be free to make this determination for themselves.
Trump's campaign has also announced that they will implement certain public health measures, including mandatory mask-wearing, testing attendees' temperature upon entry, and providing hand sanitizer.
These are the same public health measures governors are asking protestors to adhere to when organizing for mass gatherings. If these standards are enough of a green light to allow protests to proceed, then they should be enough to allow rallies to continue ahead as scheduled.
Pep rallies have punctuated the presidency of Donald Trump. He seems to feed off the crowing delight these boisterous gatherings inspire in his base of followers. But it's clear that right now, with COVID-19 having killed over 100,000 Americans and civil unrest brewing across the nation, having a rally this coming Saturday would be extremely ill-advised. With 27 states seeing spikes in infection rates and an increase of 10% in hospitalizations, perhaps even irresponsible.
The Trump Campaign's actions signal contempt for both its own supporters and for those protesting police violence. The dog whistle aspect of choosing Tulsa for this rally - the original date of which was changed from Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the USA - cannot be ignored. Tulsa, OK, was the site of one of the worst massacres on US soil of Black citizens. This aspect of Saturday's rally is discouraging enough. But it’s arguable putting his own supporters at risk is far beneath the Office Trump holds. Further, rally-goers must sign a waiver affirming that they won't sue the Trump Campaign, should they contract COVID-19.
And we all know what Donald Trump thinks of wearing masks to contain infection. But despite Trump's distaste for the practice, White House economic advisor, Larry Kudlow has signaled rally-goers should observe precautions, including wearing masks. But messaging on this has been mixed, with some officials claiming that masks are 'optional'.
This is a perfect storm of cavalier nonchalance, aggressive provocation at a time of public protests concerning systemic racism, and a President entirely focused on his election prospects.