All Oklahomans should be pleased with the way the city of Tulsa and its residents conducted themselves last weekend, during the launch of President Trump's re-election campaign.
It was no accident that Trump chose Oklahoma for his kick-off rally. Although there was a time when Democrats, both "blue" and "yellow" dog, held sway in District 2, the state is now one of the deepest red. And some of Trump's most loyal allies in Congress – like Rep. Markwayne Mullin and Sen. Jim Inhofe – hail from the Sooner state.
Yet there was potential for trouble. Originally, Trump slated the rally for June 19, which is Juneteenth – the oldest commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S. Whether Trump knew this is anybody's guess, but he moved the event to the 20th, "out of respect." Trump, the most consummate marketing genius since P.T. Barnum, may have calculated the concession would be appreciated. But the rally was also to take place about three weeks after the somber 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot, which took an estimated 300 Black lives and destroyed "The Black Wall Street."
Trump's irrascible nature, as evidenced by things he both says and tweets, suggests he wouldn't have minded a little mayhem. That's what had his detractors – and more than a few admirers – worried. Despite his incessant complaints about the media, he hews to the notion that even negative publicity is better than none, and he often spoils for a fight. He was well aware tensions were already high due to the worldwide scandal over the demise of a Black man at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Take the timing and the national mood, and add to the mix the rising COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma, and Trump's handlers had cooked up a recipe for an explosive cocktail.
Yet any expectations for violence were quashed by the common-sense attitude that prevailed among most rally attendees and protesters, which included the Black Lives Matter movement. The Daily Press staffer who was on site witnessed a few shouting matches, but no physical violence. Rumors have popped up on social media, but we tend to believe witnesses whose integrity isn't in question, rather than those with axes to grind.
Perhaps a more modest crowd than expected was a saving grace. The campaign boasted that a million people sought tickets, yet a fraction of that showed up. Tulsa officials say 6,200; the campaign counted 12,000. Area Trump supporters and journalists who attended agree it was less than 7,000. Blame quickly began to circulate over the figures: thousands of teen pop music fans ordered tickets they didn't intend to use, or maybe it was the "antifa" bunch and desperate Democrats. Campaign staffers claimed protesters blocked metal detectors and prevented loyalists from entering the BOK arena, which is laughable, since neither the Secret Service nor the Tulsa police would sit idly by as such intimidation took place.
The pandemic likely kept many people away. Though masks were passed out, few wore them. While many ardent fans of the president followed his example and went mask-free to eschew social distancing, others may have been reluctant to put themselves at risk. Since then, the state health department has urged attendees to get tested for COVID-19, and while that might not be tenable, we hope local residents who were there would be prudent enough to take at least some precautions before exposing themselves to the rest of us – just in case.
In the meantime, we can all be proud of the way Tulsa diffused what could have been a horrendous situation that destroyed lives and property. The relative peace may have disappointed a few – but not anyone decent.