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Opinion: Trump’s Tulsa rally on Juneteenth sends a clear and offensive message

Mount Zion Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., burns during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.
Mount Zion Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., burns during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The city’s Black neighborhood Greenwood, 34 square blocks, was burned by white mobs.
(AP)

The nation has been roiled by unrest, reflection and discussion since the death of a Black man at the knee of a white cop in Minneapolis, an incident so enraging — after so many other acts of police violence against people of color — that many of us forgot, for a moment, about the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crash it caused.

They’re still there, and the pandemic is so pervasive that our effort to control the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing compelled President Trump to put his traveling road show — campaign rallies — on hiatus.

But that will end June 19, in Tulsa, Okla., a state where Trump is at no risk (at least at the moment) of losing to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

If you watch “Gone With the Wind” and don’t get that it’s to be left in the past, then you’ve got problems that a contextual analysis won’t solve.

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What to make of that? During a time of increased racial tensions and demands for fundamental change in how government institutions treat Black Americans and other people of color, our pugnacious president intends to put on his P.T. Barnum suit and entertain his supporters at a rally in the city that was home to what was probably the most brutal and deadly rampage by whites against Blacks in American history.

And he intends to do it on Juneteenth, commemorated as the day that enslaved Blacks in Texas finally received word of the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years after President Lincoln had signed it.

Maybe he’ll surprise us and on that Tulsa stage discuss the 1921 massacres in which white hordes killed as many as 300 Black Americans and destroyed more than 30 city blocks of vibrant black businesses and neighborhoods. Or maybe he’ll talk about the legacy of such base racial violence across the nation and the need for white Americans to better understand how our nation’s racist past echoes today, be it in overt acts of hostility or institutional racism or implicit bias.

Don’t hold your breath.

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To continue to honor those who sought to destroy the union in defense of slavery sends an abominable signal to African Americans.

So, in going to Tulsa on Juneteenth, is Trump a) tone deaf, b) trolling, c) blind to history, or d) once again displaying his knack for doing the wrong thing?

I’m going with d, with c as a given, but I can be persuaded that a and b are at play, too. With this guy, anything is possible — and not in a good way.

Ever since Trump, the TV celebrity and brash real estate mogul from New York (remember when that’s all he was known for?), decided to try politics and managed to get himself elected president, he has left a trail of confusion, inconsistencies, insults and inhumane acts.

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The vilest of that record is his disdain for people of color, which preceded his rise to the presidency. There was, among other things, the history of discriminatory rental practices at Trump family properties in New York in the 1970s, his public campaign against the Central Park Five defendants wrongfully convicted of raping a Central Park jogger in 1989, and his dismissal as president of African and Latin American nations as “shithole countries.”

And on Wednesday, amid renewed calls to strip the names of Confederate generals from U.S. military bases and as even NASCAR banned the Confederate battle flag from race events, Trump rejected even considering renaming bases that memorialize Southern generals who became enemy combatants by taking up arms against the United State government (there’s a word for that) in defense of slavery.

At least some Republican lawmakers appear to be leaving him behind on that issue; according to Roll Call, the GOP-controlled Senate Armed Services agreed Wednesday to require those bases to be renamed as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

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Now Trump’s making plans to be in Tulsa. On Juneteenth. For a rally. With lots of people. Many of whom may disdain wearing face masks for political reasons. In close contact with one another. Inside a building. In a state where the number of coronavirus cases, which had recently been decreasing, is on the rise again.

So in that one event Trump will strike the wrong tone on race relations while risking exposing some of his most loyal supporters to a potentially deadly disease.

Of course he is. Because they are the exactly wrong things to do.


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