Most of the media coverage of Trump’s Tulsa rally focused on the embarrassingly meager crowd and the bizarre elements of Trump’s speech in which he launched a ten-minute explanation as to why he looked so shaky when he walked down a ramp at West Point and then more time showing that he could drink a glass of water with just one hand. Really. What he did not speak about was George Floyd, Juneteenth, and the 1921Tulsa massacre that happened a few miles away, all of which would have been very timely. But in his mind, trying to heal deep racial wounds is utterly unimportant when compared to trying to show that he retains basic motor functions.
Stephen Rodrick spent the whole of that day wandering around Tulsa near the rally site and talking to Trump supporters, and he gives an amusing account of his day.
Some were just here for the spectacle. On Friday night, an overweight man in an American-flag polo shirt and matching floppy hat was chatting up a summer-solstice wizard on the streets of Tulsa the night before Donald Trump’s grand contagion experiment.
“I’m here for the history,” said the stout man. “This is the first time in American history where a president has just said ‘Fuck you’ to the doctors and scientists.”
ONE OF THE DEPRESSING THINGS about covering a Trump rally is the mind-numbing similarity of the ‘what got you here’ answers from the president’s supporters. There is a sameness that mirrors the predictability of the vulgarity of their T-shirts reading “Joe Biden Sucks, Nancy Pelosi Swallows” and “Trump 2020, Re-Elect the Motherfucker.”
There is the misinterpretation of bravery. I asked Darrell, a man from Tulsa sitting at the front of the line to get into the BOK Center, why he would risk his health for the sake of a political rally. “We wouldn’t have won World War II if we hadn’t taken risks,” reasoned Darrell.
There is the evangelical belief that Donald Trump, the Kid Rock of presidents, has been sent here by the almighty. “God has forgiven him, and God put him in,” said Risa Holland from Wichita. “I’m convinced of that. We have faith God will put him in again.”
There is the conviction that the forces of evil are conspiring against him and they have names like Soros, Gates, and Schumer. Global pandemic? Specifically designed to fuck over Donald Trump. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” said Vicki Mancuso a retired Tulsan. “You know that the big telephone calls are being made from Soros to Pelosi and to Obama. They’re circling the wagons and they’re gonna drop a crapload of everything they can down on President Trump.”
I could go on, but, really, what is the point? Are there Trump supporters who vote for him because he has cut regulations and has professed a desire to stay out of foreign wars? Sure, but they aren’t the base that come to the rallies. No, these are American citizens who travel the country like they’re following the demagogic version of Phish. It’s not so much for the specifics — none of those I interviewed could articulate a Trump policy that had made their life better — but for the vibe, which, in this case, is “Life is brutal, short, and — oh yeah, read my T-shirt — fuck you.”
But what was even more interesting was Rodrick’s description of what happened after the event when he went looking for something to eat and found Black Lives Matter protestors confronting Trump supporters. The pathetic nature of the Trump rally seemed to have knocked the stuffing out of the latter.
The only place open was a Domino’s at Fourth and Main. I placed an order, and outside the scene went from crowded to dangerous. Black Lives Matters protesters started to peacefully argue with Trump supporters, but in the heat and intensity of the moment, the dialogue quickly turned to shouting and fingers in chests.
Sirens wailed and BLM protesters blocked a bus full of National Guard soldiers leaving the area. Meanwhile, Trumpers were trying to make their way back to their cars. Even a gang of Trump bikers kept their heads down and tried to unobtrusively move through the crowd, the bravado of their loud pipes announcing their arrival that morning now long gone.
I saw a young couple in Trump caps looking scared, the tiny teenage girl squeezing her boyfriend’s hand. A young black woman saw the two and approached them slowly. “You guys will be OK.” She pointed up toward a less congested street. “Go that way and you can avoid all the mess.”
On the streets, things seemed close to boiling over for the first time all weekend. The Tulsa police shouted through bullhorns to clear the street. Instead, the BLM protesters moved toward them. A white BLM supporter broke into tears.
“Trump’s rally was a disaster. We already won. If we fight here that becomes the story.”
Then there was a bang. The Tulsa Police fired pepper balls into the ground. A few hundred protesters ran up South Boulder Avenue including one white reporter with a Hawaiian pizza under his arm.
There was chaos for a moment. And then activists began shouting, “Let’s go to Greenwood. Meet in Greenwood!” [Note: Greenwood was the scene of the 1921 Tulsa massacre-MS]
And that’s when the night turned from fear to joy. The BLM protesters arrived to a heroes’ welcome in the midst of a Juneteenth block party on Black Wall Street. Music blared and people hugged and shouted among the television cameras, marijuana smoke, and a procession of classic cars moving slowly down Greenwood Avenue.
Someone shouted, “He’s gone, and we’re still here!” And then everyone danced.
Greenwood would not be defeated. Not by racist vigilantes in 1921 nor by Donald Trump in 2020.
I hope that is the refrain that we hear in November: “He’s gone, and we’re still here!”