By the end of his nearly two-hour speech, it was clear that President Donald Trump was doubling down on the combative campaign style that helped propel him into the White House four years ago.
He was throwing blows in every direction. At the media, the Democrats, his opponent Joe Biden, at protesters and statue destroyers, at judges and mayors and China and all those who denied his “incredible success in rebuilding America.” It was us versus them, and the them boiled down to labels like “mobsters,” “thugs,” “anarchists” and the “radical left.”
The boisterous crowd in the BOK Center was less than what had been touted – about two-thirds full – and events for overflow crowds outside the venue never materialized. But Trump supporters chanted and cheered, sporting “Make America Great Again” signs and relatively few masks to ward off COVID-19.
Nevertheless, the rally that drew all eyes to Tulsa proved to be less turbulent than many feared. There were few arrests, no violent clashes between crowds and police; Trump opponents advocating for racial justice and against police brutality mostly aired their pleas and anger at gatherings blocks or miles away. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement held their own Juneteenth weekend celebration at the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. It was as if Tulsa and the state, regardless of party, were striving to be civil and polite, even as the president ratcheted up his attacks.
Taking the stage a little after 7 p.m., Trump largely stuck to a law-and-order script for his speech. He boasted of the country’s strong economy before a coronavirus outbreak led to massive job losses and huge drops in the stock market. He called his presumptive Democratic nominee a “willing Trojan horse for socialism” and promised voters a virus-ravaged economy would come roaring back by Election Day.
“You’re warriors,” he told the crowd at the start, possibly alluding to their willingness to come to an indoor arena amid a pandemic. The majority of attendees didn’t wear masks, eschewing advice from local and national public health experts. The speech came at the end of a record-breaking week of new COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma, one of the few states to fully reopen its economy. Still, the state’s hospitalization rate is relatively low and most of the new cases have involved young adults.
Trump repeated his now-familiar insults of the media and of his political opponents like Democratic presidential nominee Biden, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. He said widespread protests and civil unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd was worse in cities run by Democrats.
“If Biden is elected, he’ll surrender your country to these mobsters, 100 percent,” Trump said.
“If the Democrats gain power, then the rioters will be in charge and no one will be safe and no one will have control. Joe Biden is not the leader of his party. Joe Biden is a helpless puppet of the radical left and he’s not radical left.”
At times, Trump detoured into long-winded stories. He spent about 10 minutes dissecting his appearance June 13 at a graduation for West Point cadets where he appeared to have trouble walking down a ramp and taking a sip of water. Trump blamed the media for taking the stumble out of context and said his arm was tired from saluting more than 600 times to the service academy graduates.
“I can’t fall with the fake news watching,” Trump said. The crowd responded loudly with repeated calls for “four more years.”
As the country continues its national reckoning around race and police reform, Trump failed to mention the Tulsa Race Massacre, which happened 99 years ago just blocks from the BOK Center. His one oblique reference was a promise to get Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to designate the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park as part of the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Network.
The park commemorates the Black residents who died at the hands of a white mob in two days of rioting in Tulsa on May 31 and June 1, 1921. The mob burned the prosperous Greenwood enclave of Tulsa known as Black Wall Street to the ground. Units of the Oklahoma National Guard arrested Greenwood residents and detained them in holding centers.
Trump decried present-day looters and rioters, saying Biden “will always bow to the angry mob.” He boasted of using the National Guard to quell unrest in Washington, D.C., and said he has an open offer to governors in every state to help “put down looters.”
“I’ve done more for the Black community in four years than Joe Biden has done in 47 years,” Trump said, touting record-low Black unemployment, pre-COVID pandemic, and tax cuts that raised the take-home pay of Black families.