When the Coronavirus is Personal

By happenstance we ran into an old friend Monday who told us from behind a face mask six feet away that he had recently recovered from COVID-19, and been given clearance by his doctor to start running into people again. He further informed us his wife, also a friend of ours, who already had plenty of serious health problems, was still recovering in a nearby hospital but had at least been taken off the ventilator.
We have other friends who stubbornly insist that the seriousness if not the existence of coronavirus is a hoax promulgated by an alarmist fake news media as another witch hunt against President Donald Trump, and they like to ask if we even know anyone who’s gotten sick. The aforementioned friends are the second and third people we know who have been among the nearly two and a half million COVID-19 cases, and although we don’t yet know anyone among the more than 120,000 Americans who have died from the disease we’re inclined to regard the coronavirus as a truly serious problem.
Politics and other weaknesses of human nature have proved ineradicable throughout history, though, and those instincts overwhelm a dispassionate assessment of the data. The coronavirus is indeed a pressing political problem for President Donald Trump, and his most ardent admirers feel obliged to somehow explain why it’s all fake news. Some still cling to the theory that all the federal health authorities and and the state and local health authorities and all the doctors and nurses on duty in America’s hospitals are in on a “deep state” plot to make Trump look bad, but most attempt more reasonable arguments. The coronavirus does indeed exist and has infected a couple of million or so and killed more 120,000 or so, they acknowledge, but they argue that in the grand scheme of things that’s not so bad, and no reason to continue any anti-coronavirus measures.
After all, this is in a country of more than 330 million people, with some 47 or 50 million of them unemployed and eager to get back to work, and pretty much everyone is itching to get back to going to concerts and sporting events and campaign rallies and social justice protests and running into people within six feet and without face masks. Federal and state and local restrictions on personal behavior for public health reasons are predictably widely unpopular, and it’s understandable why Trump has seemingly staked his reelection on flouting those rules and encouraging others to do so as well.
For now, though, it seems a losing argument. All the polls show most Americans are taking the coronavirus quite seriously, Trump’s handling of the problem has majority disapproval, and a mere 6,200 of his most ardent admirers signed a form waiving the Trump campaign’s liability for any sickness or death to attend an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Trump is hugely popular but coronavirus cases have lately been doubling every day, The fans in attendance loved it when Trump drank from a glass of water with one and not spilling a drop on his silk tie, but his rally speech in a time of coronavirus didn’t do him much good with any potential new voters.
Trump had plenty of people to blame for the current sorry state of affairs, but at his first coronavirus rally he didn’t outline any specific plan to resume economic activity while keeping the coronavirus in check. To be fair, none of the damned Democrats have done so. Which leaves us worried, and wondering what might come on Election Day, if that happens. In the meantime, we’ll be praying for all of our friends, and everyone else.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Trip to Tulsa

We’ve never failed to have a good time on our many visits to Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is one of America’s most musical cities and one of those places that has its own weird vibe, but President Donald Trump wound up having a very bad day there on Saturday.
Trump had hoped restart his reelection campaign with one of of his famously jam-packed and raucous at the 19,000-seat Bank of Oklahoma Center in downtown Tulsa, but starting with the announcement it proved a public relations disaster. The campaign was widely criticized for packing unmasked people into a crowded building during an ongoing pandemic, including by the mayor and public health officials hospital workers in Tulsa, which has lately seen its coronavirus cases spiking. Others noticed the rally was scheduled for June 19th, which millions of black Americans celebrate as “Juneteenth” to commemorate when the last Americans slaves in Texas learned they were free, and given that it was shortly after the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 when white Tulsans murdered at last 300 black Tulsans and largely burned down the city’s prosperous black district, and given that most black Americans consider Trump a racist, it was another controversy.
In a rare concession to public opinion Trump rescheduled the rally to the next day, and boasted that he “made Juneteenth famous,” then announced that all the rally-goers would be provided one of those face masks that he refuses to wear and has discouraged others from wearing. He also required that rally-goers sign a form waiving liability against the campaign if anyone was infected during the rally, and the rally wasn’t getting the coverage Trump hoped for. Shortly before the rally the press was reporting that six campaign workers who’d been doing advance work the event had tested positive for coronavirus, and Trump was reportedly furious that it was being reported.
Still, Trump flew into Tulsa with high hopes. His campaign manager had boasted that one million people had applied for tickets, and Trump promised he would not only pack the arena but have thousands more supporters in a makeshift stadium outside the arena waiting for another speech. When the Tulsa fire marshal estimated that 6,200 people were inside and only a few dozen were milling about outside, it was embarrassing. Unwilling to call the Tulsa fire marshal a Trump-hating liar and unable to refute all the “fake news” footage from every outlet including Fox News and One America News Network the campaign blamed the media for stoking coronavirus fears and left-wing protesters scaring away families and blocking the doors, but the protests were also smaller than expected and far more peaceful than Trump might have preferred, and it was another rough news cycle for Trump.
The campaign boasted that 5 million or so people watched it on the internet, which might well be true, but we doubt it won Trump many new voters. The speech was a typically meandering harangue, with some weirder than usual moments. He attacked presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a number of nicknames and some seemingly contradictory accusations, criticizing Biden for supporting the tough-on-crime 1994 Crime Bill and also predicting that a President Biden will defund the police and allow criminals to run amok. He also bragged at length about how strong the economy had been before the coronavirus came along, and how great it will be when the coronavirus magically fades away, and he blamed the Chinese for the current unpleasantness, and said he’d told “his people” to stop testing so often to slow the rate of reported cases. Before the speech was even over the White House press office released a statement explaining that Trump was only joking, but couldn’t explain why it was appropriate for a President of the United States to joke about a disease that has already killed more than 120,000 Americans. He didn’t mention the national debate about racism and police brutality, except to criticize the commissioner of the National Football league for allowing players to kneel during the national anthem in protest.
He also did an extended monologue about the widely seen videotape of him very gingerly and uncertainly descending a ramp after a graduation ceremony at West Point, which made for an embarrassing news cycle a week or so ago and is the kind of thing most politicians would happily left fade from memory, and although we found the explanation further embarrassing the crowd seemed to think it the funniest comedy routine since the heyday of Bob Hope. He’d also been videotaped using two hands to drink from a cup of water, which he blamed on having saluted 600 cadets individually, and when he demonstrated that he could indeed drink from a glass of water with just one hand the crowd went wild at the feat of strength. Again, the fans love it, but it’s not likely to win any new voters.
When Trump returned to the White House aboard the Marine One helicopter he was videotaped walking across the lawn with his tie undone and a Make America Great Again ball cap in one hand, looking very exhausted and unhappy. That quickly made the rounds, delighting Trump’s many critics, and will probably fuel a few nights of late night comedy show monologues and lots of “memes” on social media. Meanwhile, we haven’t heard any spin from the White House press office that is at all convincing, and are eager to hear what they might come up with.
Tulsa’s a fun town full of good people and great architecture and real-deal American music, that horrific episode back in ’21 notwithstanding, and if you get the chance we urge you to visit. We don’t expect that Trump will be eager to return, though.

— Bud Norman

The Trump Rallies Return

Defying his own administration’s guidelines regarding large public gatherings during the coronavirus epidemic, President Donald Trump will resume holding his raucous campaign rallies next week. He’s convinced that having some 10,000 or so unmasked people standing close together inside an arena won’t pose a risk to anyone’s health, but just to be sure he’s requiring everyone in attendance to sign a waver stating they “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19” and will not hold the campaign liable.
The re-opening round of rallies are planned for Oklahoma, Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Arizona, all states that are currently an increase in their rates of coronavirus infection, but we don’t expect that will prevent a large turnout at each stop. Trump fans are loyal to their president and love his rallies the way bobby soxers loved Frank Sinatra concerts, and they seem to have little fear of coronavirus. Many of them have already attended large public gatherings protesting the restrictions that state and local governments have imposed in response to the epidemic.
All of the venues are noteworthy, but the rally planned for June 19th in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has drawn special scrutiny. The date is Juneteenth, a holiday for many black Americans commemorating when Texas slaves belatedly learned they’d been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and it comes with a week of the anniversary of the 1921 “Tulsa race riot,” when white mobs invaded the black part of town and burned down homes and businesses and killed around 300 citizens and even used a plan to drop bombs on the neighborhood. Tulsa’s a great town, but that was its most shameful moment, and given all that’s going on across the country at the moment many black Tulsans found the scheduling racially insensitive. There’s a good chance the choice of time and place was inadvertent, given how little Trump knows about history, and there’s also a possibility that it was intentional, given Trump’s racial instincts and instinctive insensitivity.
What we notice about the upcoming tour of Trump’s hit roadshow is that he’s sticking to friendly territory, or once was friendly. Trump can count on Oklahoma’s electoral votes, and should be able to count on Florida and North Carolina and Texas and Arizona, and that he’s spending time and money in those states does not bode well for his reelection campaign. All the polling lately indicates that Florida and North Carolina and Arizona are now swing states he’s in danger of losing, with Texas alarmingly competitive, but Trump also needs to be in Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and the other states that gave him his upset win in the Electoral College voting but he’s now losing by wide margins.
Trump rallies always fire the up the faithful, who can’t get enough of his insult comic shtick, but for now we doubt the benefits outweigh the risk of his gatherings becoming widely-reported coronavirus clusters. They don’t seem to win over many potentially persuadable but still unconverted voters, and almost of the networks won’t be airing any of them live and unfiltered, and he’s bound to say something stupid that his many critics in the news media and late night comedy shows will make hay of for a few news cycles.
Trump does love his rallies, though, basking in the applause and adoration of the faithful, and that probably supersedes any risk-benefit analysis his advisors might dare present him. Better Trump should spend his time uniting and calming the country at this polarized and very scary moment in history, but the applause and adoration of the faithful might supersede that as well.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Skirmishes in the Race Wars

Two more black men were fatally shot by police this week, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma, and both communities suffered from the rioting and looting that now routinely follows these incidents. The initial news reports were once again inconclusive, all the same arguments regarding law enforcement and race in America were once-again re-hashed, both major party presidential nominees once again weighed in, and by now there’s a numbing familiarity to it all.
This time around the initial news reports out of North Carolina appear exculpatory for the black police officer in a largely black police department with a black Police Chief accountable to a largely black-run municipal government who shot a reportedly armed and black-life-threatening black man, which didn’t seem to give pause to the rioters and looters and their “Black Lives Matter” apologists, while the available videotape and press accounts and even the official police statements out of Oklahoma suggest that the black man shot by a white officer was unarmed and no imminent threat to the bevy of officers who had surrounded him, which somehow resulted in what seems to be a slightly more restrained round of rioting and looting than occurred in North Carolina.
By now we’ve learned to await further reports before reaching any tentative conclusions about these recurring things, and to be grateful that our tentative conclusions don’t settle these matters. The established facts that the shooter in North Carolina was a black man and that the one in Oklahoma was a white woman are deemed irrelevant in our rightward-leaning court of opinion, and we expect that the leftward-leaning sorts will have their own self-interested reasons for dismissing such information, so the rest of the autopsies and witness accounts and physical evidence and press reports will eventually be more or less resolved and then quickly forgotten. How this affects the presidential race, much less the way this objectively undeniable problem of police shootings and subsequent rioting is either resolved or brought to its unbearable conclusion, is also beyond our powers of conjecture.
The initial reports out of Oklahoma are bad enough that even proudly pro-police Republican nominee Donald Trump said he was “very troubled” by the video he’d seen, and rambled out a stronger anti-police case than we’d make at this point, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was “Tweeting” her shared outraged with even the North Carolina rioters and looters, even if her more expansive later comments made clear that she wasn’t in favor of the random attacks on white people that resulted. Perhaps she’ll be able to rebound by noting how Trump has tentatively presumed guilty a woman who has her own story to tell, and perhaps the North Carolina situation is more complicated that it seems and both candidates wind up looking silly in their premature pronouncements about it, but for now it seems his supporters won’t mind that he prejudged a white woman and with her prejudgment of a ┬áblack man she looks to come out slightly worse from it in this crazy election year. This is no way to judge a case, of course, but there you have it.

— Bud Norman