Scenes outside Trump rally show critical state of US democracy

On the streets of Tulsa this evening, I’ve seen American politics at its most visceral.

I have no dog in the fight; no side to take, but watching opposing sides nose-to-nose demonstrates the critical state of American democracy.

As I write I am watching people inches apart and hurling abuse to and fro.

Trump at comeback rally: 'The silent majority is stronger than ever before'

Trump at comeback rally: ‘The silent majority is stronger than ever before’

“Go home,” a Trump supporter screams. “You’re not welcome here.”

“Trump’s a racist!” a woman shouts back. “Black people for Trump is like Jewish people for Hitler. He is so racist.”

“He’s a rapist,” another shouts, with nothing more to substantiate such a claim.

“He’s done more for this country than you ever will!” the retort comes back.

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“How dare you call me racist… we are America first, that doesn’t make us racist.”

“Four more years, four more years,” they chant.

“Hilary was a crook. Biden is a loser.”

A supporter sits in the upper seats during a campaign rally for U.S. President Donald Trump at the BOK Center, June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is holding his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise
Image:The crowd was smaller than expected at the rally, with many heeding advice from health officials regarding COVID-19

There are plenty of other phrases shouted as well, far too profane to be published here.

I am at the front of the line for the resumption of Donald Trump’s election campaign.

What’s striking here in the very heart of it all is the apparent lack of any nuanced view or understanding for the opposing side.

They are passionate but angry and deeply divided.

It’s encouraging then, in quieter corners, to find more considered debate.

I listen to a young black man asking a white Trump supporter why the Ku Klux Klan are drawn to Mr Trump.

“It was the Democrats who gave them power,” the supporter replies. “The Republicans abolished slavery.”

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The two backdrops to all this are coronavirus and race.

The Black Lives Matter movement was given a new global impetus by the death earlier this month of George Floyd in Minnesota.

There are quite a few Black Lives Matter protesters here, all of whom think the Trump presidency has worsened race relations.

massacre Tulsa
Image:Some 300 African Americans were killed by a white mob in May 1921

And for him to hold his first rally in Tulsa is doubly insulting, they think, because of the city’s place in history as the scene of the country’s worst single race-fuelled incident. Some 300 African Americans were killed by a white mob in May 1921.

“I have no problem with the president coming here,” African-American Kavin Ross told me when we spoke in the neighbourhood where the 1921 massacre happened.

“It’s just the attraction that he brings. He rallies, he dog whistles his base who are saying ‘white power’ and ‘white lives matter’ and ‘build that wall’, all that racist rhetoric. We don’t need that here in Tulsa. We’re just trying to heal,” Mr Ross said.

Trump supporters inside 19,000-seat BOK Center

Low turnout at Trump’s first post-lockdown rally

The Tulsa rally is the first for the Trump campaign since the coronavirus hit back in March.

There is a mixture of indifference and ignorance to the fact that in this county alone, on this day they have seen their highest number of cases yet.

One person told me it was all a hoax. Another said that it was real but that if the Black Lives Matters protesters could come out in huge numbers then so could Mr Trump and his supporters.

Supporters look on outside the venue for U.S. President Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., June 20, 2020
Image:Thousands of people waited outside for the rally to begin

It’s worth noting that the black community in Tulsa tell me they had pared back their weekend of commemorations to mark Juneteenth – the end of slavery.

But when they heard President Trump was coming to town they saw it as a green light to have their own mass gathering.

Back outside the arena where Mr Trump is speaking, there are more heated verbal clashes.

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Trump hits out at his political rivals

One man is screaming at a black woman who has accused him of being racist.

“They pin us as racist,” Adam from Texas tells me afterwards.

“Americans for Trump are Americans for all. Trump’s true supporters are generally not life-long conservatives. We are liberations: Live and let live. How do you prove you are not a racist? We are nationalist. Race, creed, colour, gender. There are outliers in every single group,” Adam adds.

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20 June: The dual controversies of Trump’s rally

Nearby, Trisha Hope is selling books.

She had compiled every one of Donald Trump’s tweets into three hard back volumes.

“It’s a record of history,” she tells me.

“He’s been the greatest president of our lifetime. I suffered under eight years of Obama. My finances were to the floor. It was devastating. Just the three years Trump was in office our economy was off the chart. It’s been incredible.”

And that was the core of President Trump’s message in the arena: he rebuilt the economy, he says, then the “China virus” destroyed it, but he’s rebuilt it already again.

We’ll hear that mantra over the next five months. And on 3 November the people’s verdict on “four more years” will come.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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