Trump campaign puts out a ridiculous defense of its reckless indoor rally

Trump campaign puts out a ridiculous defense of its reckless indoor rally
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a "Keep America Great" rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. Credit: Gage Skidmore

On Sunday, President Donald Trump prepared to hold his first indoor campaign rally in three months, a risky move as the coronavirus continues to spread widely among Americans. Each day, tens of thousands of people are diagnosed with COVID-19 and hundreds die of the diseasein the United States.


He scheduled the rally in Henderson, Nevada, a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016 that his team hopes to flip. It's his first indoor rally since he held a mass gathering in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June, which was notably underattended. Herman Cain, a prominent supporter of the president, defiantly showed up and didn't wear a mask, like many of the attendees. He died weeks later from COVID-19.

Indoor spaces with many unmasked people cheering are among the most dangerous conditions for spreading the virus, experts have warned. And despite the catastrophe Trump invited in June, one that may well have killed Herman Cain, the president is prepared to try it again.

Trump has already faced criticism for encouraging his supporters to gather together in outdoor settings without masks, but the evidence indicates meeting indoors is substantially higher risk.

In response to these concerns, the campaign put out a remarkably petulent statement:

If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small business in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the president of the United States.

There are many things wrong with this brief comment.

First, it's not even clear who the "you" it refers to is actually addressing. It certainly isn't responding to someone concerned about the risk of corovirus spread at all venues, including casinos and protests.

Second, an indoor rally, as discussed, is precisely the most dangerous type of activity to hold during the pandemic. Though there was real concern that that Black Lives Matter protests could spread the disease, little evidence has emerged showing that they significantly contributed to the spread, probably because of their outdoor settings and the prevalence of mask-wearing. Casinos are operating under new protocols designed to limit the risk of infection, though arguably, these establishments should just be closed for the duration of the pandemic.

Third, the president should be held to a higher standard than anyone else, as he bears responsibility for the health of the entire country in times like these. He should set an example by refraining from indulging the impulse to hold rallies, which seems to be nearly a compulsion for him.

Fourth, the reference to being allowed to "burn down small businesses" is ridiculously over the top and absurd. No one is allowed to do this; it is a crime that people get prosecuted for. This line was supposed to be, presumably, a "gotcha" for the media that the president thinks doesn't take rioting seriously enough, but it really just makes the campaign look childish. People who burn down buildings should be held responsible, just as politicians who hold reckless gatherings during a pandemic should be held responisble.

Fifth, all of this is made worse because of the president's own messaging. He often scoffs at the practice of wearing masks, one of the best ways to reduce infection when distancing isn't possible. And while some of his supporters wear masks at his rallies, many — perhaps the majority — do not, which is likely to be the case at Sunday's rally. He implicitly encourages this recklessness.

Sixth, the reference to the "First Amendment" is just entirely beside the point. No one is suggesting Trump shouldn't hold his rally because it's a particular kind of political rally — the objection is to the safety of the conduct, regardless of its political content. Many theaters, similarly, remain closed because of concerns like those raised by an indoor rally.

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