The president of the United States is about to knowingly endanger the health of thousands of Americans for the sake of his political fortunes and personal gratification. Donald Trump's plan to hold a massive rally Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma — potentially almost 30,000 people crammed into two indoor venues, no masks required, in a city currently experiencing record spikes in coronavirus infections — marks a new level of self-serving recklessness, even for this president. People may die. Health officials are pleading that he cancel or at least move it outdoors. It's not too late to listen.
If there's one word that describes Trump's performance throughout this pandemic, it's "irresponsible." He has downplayed the threat, promoted dangerous treatments, failed to lead on testing, threatened to withhold aid to states over political spats, encouraged the public to ignore the advice of government experts, and ridiculed the wearing of masks.
But it all pales next to the epic irresponsibility of proceeding with this rally under these circumstances. Even if the moral implication of potentially becoming a COVID-19 "superspreader" doesn't thwart Trump's familiar impulse of putting his own needs above all else, how does it not terrify his campaign? Are they considering what his already-dismal poll numbers on handling the pandemic will look like if the whole country, in a few weeks, is watching images of overwhelmed Oklahoma hospitals, courtesy of the president?
If Trump insists on going ahead, Missouri's recent experiences provide guidance that could mitigate the dangers. The large Memorial Day gatherings at Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks apparently haven't caused the infection spikes that many feared, probably because it was mostly outdoors, where the virus has a harder time spreading. And two coronavirus-infected hairstylists in Springfield, Missouri, apparently didn't infect any of their 140 customers last month — likely because of the salon's strict policy of wearing masks, which increasingly appear even more effective at thwarting transmission than initially thought.
Yet the main precaution the Trump campaign is taking for the rally is to require attendees to sign legal waivers so they can't sue the campaign if they get infected — which, more than anything, illustrates that Trump and his people understand the risks they're visiting on Tulsa, and they just don't care. At this writing, the campaign is refusing officials' request that the rally be moved outdoors. They will hand out masks but won't require they be worn. Given Trump's refusal to wear one himself, and his major role in the bizarre political polarization around mask-wearing, it seems unlikely most of his audience will do it voluntarily.
Hyper-partisanship is familiar, but a sitting president literally risking the lives of his own most fervent supporters is new and disturbing territory. Seldom is a potential tragedy so clearly foreseeable. The campaign can and should prevent or at least mitigate it, right now.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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