Martin Schram: How to make Trump’s America get real again

Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, June 20, 2020. (Win McNamee/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
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By Martin Schram Tribune News Service (TNS)

As his reelection polls keep slip-sliding downward, faster with every step he takes, President Donald Trump must have had a panicky moment when he realized he looks to all the world like a leather-soled loser who suddenly realized the 2020 campaign trail he was walking along had morphed into a way-too-steep, icy-slick, steel ramp.

And OMG! No handrails.

That must have been the moment Trump decided he must ignore all his health/science experts and rush headlong into a quick reopening of America’s COVID-closed economy, ready or not. He started by simply acting as if the COVID-19 pandemic crisis was over. Never mind that his experts were saying the pandemic is still surging in its initial wave. They warned him it could spike, especially in the Republican South and Southwest, if those states suddenly abandoned all the science-based precautions that worked so well in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York. Trump’s response to what they were saying was to cancel his COVID-19 Task Force’s public briefings. Mission accomplished.

The highlight of Trump’s master plan was to convince America the reopening was safe by holding what he told us would be the most humongous campaign rally we’ve ever seen, on June 20, in the heart of Trump Country: Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump boasted he’d not only fill Tulsa’s 19,000 seat auditorium, but he built an overflow site outside with a massive red-white-and-blue stage and huge screen. He wanted everyone jammed side by side, inside and outside — no masks needed — all violating his task force’s teachings. Trump bragged that a million people signed up for free rally tickets. And did I mention it would be the biggest ever?

Trump planned to hit the ground running with his Tulsa grand reopening of America. And once in Tulsa, he took his first step — right onto a virtual upturned rake.

THWACK!

There was no crowd at the outside overflow site. Inside, the 19,000 capacity auditorium was more than two-thirds empty; the fire marshal said just 6,200 people attended. The embarrassing emptiness became the day’s biggest news. Damn, steep and slippery, that steel ramp of a campaign trail!

Timeout! Perhaps the real news of the day is the one you didn’t hear much about. And I consider it a very positive true story about Trump’s most loyal voter base. It’s not about the 6,200 who did show up. It’s about the 12,800 who could have been sitting in those empty seats — but were wise enough not to do so — quite possibly because they knew they were being lured into that too-close, no-masks crowd by deliberate lies and false assurances that the pandemic was past. And those absent pro-Trump supporters damn well were not going to be conned into endangering their lives — and especially, the lives of their spouses, children, parents, grandparents and/or other loved ones they would be with after leaving Trump’s rally.

Trump has, in effect, taken his team right back to the shameful days of January, February and early March — Trump’s era of deliberate denial of the COVID-19 dangers that the world knew were frighteningly real. When trapped and helpless, Trump’s persona has always led him to think he can just make real problems disappear by lying and insisting they aren’t there at all.

That’s why Trump’s America became the world’s absolute worst at countering COVID-19.

Those plenty-smart onetime Trump supporters who stayed home with their loved ones in what we used to call Trump Country may well still vote for Trump in November. Or Trump may have lost their votes because they now realize their leader didn’t consider them worthy of being told the tough truth.

They trusted Trump. But Trump clearly didn’t trust them. Or respect them. Or value their lives — and the lives and safety of the loved ones they would be going home to after Trump’s rally was over.

Just imagine what a solidly conservative Republican President Mike DeWine, or President John Kasich might have done in Tulsa. They’d have told their trusting supporters the truth about today’s too-real global nightmare. And then they would have required everyone to maintain safe protocols. And wear masks.

My guess is most of Trump’s base will never please me by bidding No-Trump. But, while I don’t much like how they’ll probably vote, I do care about the lives of all human beings. So here’s a creative solution they should like: They can make a virtue out of our mutually menacing reality by requiring everyone at rallies and their national convention to wear masks. And their once-Grand Old Party can do what’s right by handing them “MAGA” masks to wear.

So the next time Trump stalwarts fashionably proclaim “Make America Great Again!” they’ll at least be doing something that doesn’t just demonize and physically threaten the rest of us. Indeed, they may be keeping us all just a bit safer.

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ABOUT THE WRITER
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.
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