Donald Trump will return to the 2020 campaign trail on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a move freighted with racial symbolism and one almost certain to end poorly for the incumbent president.
The selection of Tulsa as the place where Trump returns to the stump and the date on which he is choosing to do it both suggest that Trump’s long-whispered-about race speech — in the wake of ongoing protests and unrest following the death of George Floyd — will happen next Friday, and at a campaign rally no less.
Tulsa was the site of one of the most vicious acts of racial violence in American history when, in 1921, a mob of white people attacked a section of the city known as Greenwood or “Black Wall Street” and murdered hundreds of African Americans. (The event was the basis for HBO’s “Watchmen” series.) And June 19, which has become commonly known and celebrated as Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, commemorates the anniversary of the reading of the General Orders, No. 3, which officially informed slaves that they were free.
Its hard not to see this as intentional by the Trump campaign. While Oklahoma has no set limit on group gatherings, it’s not a swing state, so there’s no other obvious reason — other than to address racial issues — that Trump would stage his first rally in the state (and Tulsa particularly). And Trump could have done the rally on lots of days — 364 of them actually! — that don’t commemorate the emancipation of slaves.
“The African American community is very near and dear to his heart,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday of Trump’s planned Tulsa rally on Juneteenth. “He’s working on rectifying injustices. … So it’s a meaningful day to him and it’s a day where wants to share some of the progress that’s been made as we look forward and more that needs to be done.”
This, uh, seems like a very bad idea.
Primarily because Trump is simply not a credible messenger on matters of race — despite his repeated proclamations that he is the “least racist person there is anywhere in the world.”
Trump’s life — and his presidency — are littered with examples of him weaponizing race for his own personal or political benefit. From a housing discrimination lawsuit in the 1970s to his comments about the “Central Park 5” to his assertion that “both sides” were to blame for white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 — and dozens of smaller moments in between — Trump has again and again showed he simply does not get it when it comes to America’s ongoing racial problems. Or, seen through another lens, that he gets it all too well.
And, African Americans — judging by the data — are done with Trump. In a CNN national poll released earlier this week, 88% of black voters said they disapproved of the job Trump is doing in office. Ninety one percent disapproved of how he is handling race relations. And 88% said they would vote for Biden over Trump in a hypothetical general election matchup.
Now, it’s possible that the intended audience for this Tulsa rally isn’t actually African Americans but rather white women, particularly those who live in the suburbs, who have badly soured on Trump — and who see his handling of the Floyd protests as a sort of final straw. In giving a “race” speech, Trump and his team may well be aiming to bring some of those voters back around.
But again, the data suggests that Trump is just too damaged a messenger on race to convince almost anyone that he is committed to working toward equality in this country. Almost 7 in 10 women in the CNN poll disapproved of how Trump is handling race relations in America and a similar number — 65% — disapproved of the overall job he is doing.
Because of everything he has said and done in his life on race and racial issues, Trump lacks credibility to give a speech like the one he appears ready to deliver next Friday night. You can’t simply flip a light switch and say you now get it on systemic racism and the ways in which the color of our skin still divides us.
Trump’s actions — like all of our actions — define us. And his actions on this issuer speak far louder than any words he could utter.
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