On Sunday, President Donald Trump hosted his first indoor rally in months, speaking before a bustling and largely maskless crowd in Henderson, Nevada. He did so in defiance of state and local orders against gatherings of more than 50 people, and may well leave the event company that produced the event on the hook for staggering fines due to defying those orders.
The imagery was all too familiar: Trump spewed venom from the dias as his adoring throng cheered on, mouths agape. It made me think of a similar scene from June 20th, when Trump took the stage in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prior to the event, his campaign team dutifully removed signs encouraging social distancing and blocking off seats. Thousands attended. Among them was a former CEO and presidential candidate, a man who beat colon cancer almost fifteen years prior, but would tragically die some weeks later in an Atlanta hospital bed from COVID-19.
That man chose not to wear a mask, putting full faith in a president who spent months openly downplaying the threat of COVID-19 in public statements, a president who openly called the science a hoax, tried to call into question the credibility of public health officials who dared to disagree with him.
As Donald Trump spoke on Sunday, I wondered what Hermain Cain must be thinking, and if he were here today if he would tell you he wished he had worn a mask.
Herman Cain, his family and staff have all said they can’t be sure where Cain contracted COVID-19. They know only that he tested positive shortly after returning from Tulsa, where he was surrounded by thousands of people, but they also know he had traveled extensively in the days before the rally, including a trip to Arizona at a time when that state saw a surge in cases.
The true tragedy of Cain’s case is that it actually doesn’t matter one way or another if he contracted the virus before or after Trump’s rally. If he was asymptomatic while attending the rally but had contracted the virus beforehand, he unwittingly exposed thousands of people to the virus while in attendance, including a group he was photographed sitting with, none of whom wore masks.
The startlingly irresponsible decision to resume indoor rallies shows a callous lack of regard for the lives of Herman Cain and Trump’s other supporters. He’s already flown hundreds into Washington for his convention night speech and held open air rallies outside where attendees were packed into lines with no attempt to socially distance.
But bringing this dog and pony show indoors poses incalculable risks for the people who attend, and even for Trump himself who is doubtless so sure that he’s a paragon for health that he doesn’t think twice before standing in front of a couple of thousand screaming, sneezing, spitting fans.
These rallies are not just Trump trying to fire up his base, it’s him trying to send a message through television sets across the country that he’s been right all along, that the virus is either a hoax or will soon disappear due to “herd mentality,” which we can’t believe he actually said, but, well, he did.
But the numbers don’t lie. The breathtaking sum of death that this pandemic has wrought upon the United States should be enough to convince any sensible politician that the lives of their supporters are bigger than winning an election, but Donald Trump is not a sensible person or politician.
And Trump’s rallies already have a body count. At a time when some states are letting thousands of football fans pack college and NFL stadiums, experts agree that we’re due for another spike, with some estimates saying the death toll in January could stand at twice what it is today, with 400,000 American lives cut short from the coronavirus.
Even worse: his hubris and blatant disregard for science and public health isn’t even a bug of the Republian Party of 2020, it’s a full blown feature. Freshman Congressman Dan Crenshaw openly campaigns without a face mask, has tweeted out video statements riddled with falsehoods, and even defended Trump’s attempts to downplay the virus.
Think Crenshaw is alone? Nope. Rep. Louie Gohmert and candidate Wesley Hunt also tested positive for COVID-19 in advance of a Trump visit in August. Both openly campaigned and worked without a mask on, and Gohmert is such a dull tack that he speculated that maybe wearing a face mask is what gave him COVID, not wandering around D.C., Texas and anywhere else he washed up without one.
Every couple of years we tell you this is the most important election of our lifetimes, but we have honest to god landed at that moment. I share a lot of the frustration that folks have felt about the shutdowns, and I’m as worried as anyone that the fabric of small business ownership in this country may face an uncertain future.
But it won’t be any future at all if we keep letting the people who swore an oath to defend us lie in Trump’s name. Donald Trump, Governor Greg Abbott, members of Congress like Crenshaw and candidates like West are playing a dangerous game with your life and livelihood.
It’s a game they played with Herman Cain’s life. Don’t let them play it with yours, and vote them out in November.
Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images