Gene Lyons

The Country's Changing, and Trump Is the Last to Know

That Associated Press photo of a disheveled, exhausted Boss Trump, trudging across the White House lawn with his tie undone, clutching a MAGA hat in his hand, appears destined to become the classic portrait of his reign of misrule: the beginning of the end.

As usual, the debacle in Tulsa, with its acres of empty blue seats, was everybody’s fault but Donald J. Trump’s. A classic case of overpromising and under-delivering. “We've never had an empty seat, and we certainly won't in Oklahoma,” Trump had boasted. Oops!

Hundreds of thousands were anticipated; just over 6,000 showed. The Big Crybaby's campaign alibies that nonviolent protesters scared his supporters away from the Tulsa rally. Protesters and the news media, that is, which unfairly publicized rising COVID-19 infections there and across Oklahoma.

But it wasn’t Black Lives Matter or the largely imaginary antifa that threatened violence; it was Trump himself. “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand,” he tweeted a couple of days before the event, “you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!"

People were going to get hurt.

On racial issues, Boss Trump’s invariable message is, “Let’s you and him fight.” He’s running as the candidate of the white people in the red states, period. A gang of bearded white guys in camo carry AR-15s into the Michigan statehouse, and he tweets, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.” But let Black Lives Matter activists march and chant in city streets, and they’re “thugs” and “terrorists.”

Thanks to criminals who use civic disorder as an excuse to loot and burn, Trump’s threadbare race-baiting plays with many of his supporters. However, one can’t help but notice the growing proportion of white Americans -- and not just college kids -- among protesters marching in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. The nation’s conscience has been touched.

Now me, I have no use for NASCAR whatsoever. The noise alone would make me crazy. It’s also my view that nothing involving an engine can be properly called a sport. That said, the sight of a large contingent of NASCAR drivers and pit crews rallying in support of Bubba Wallace after a noose was found in the African-American driver’s garage couldn’t help but make one wonder if maybe this time around, things were going to be different.

Message: Racial hatred is for losers.

Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, a winner of 11 NBA championships, has been outspoken about racial justice all his life -- even back when it was widely resented by sportswriters and fans. Today, at age 86, Russell writes of his hope that outrages like George Floyd’s death “are forever behind us and that real, lasting change will finally be realized. Our lives depend on it.”

Should that happen, Trump will be the last one to hear about it. Nothing outside the orbit of his engorged ego interests him. This is a guy who thinks people are wearing face masks during a viral pandemic to express their opposition to him. An ordinary sociopath would have understood that asking people to sign waivers agreeing not to file lawsuits if they got sick or died as a result of attending the Tulsa rally was no way to draw a crowd.

Indeed, it’s a testimony to the Trump Cult’s hold over his perfervid “base” that anybody showed up at all. After all, the greatest country song lyric about the city is “Livin’ on Tulsa Time.” Not dyin’.

(There’s another wonderful song called “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma,” but it’s about homesickness. And tractors.)

So was Trump joking or was he deadly serious when he told supporters at the Tulsa event that he’d ordered “his people” to cut back on COVID-19 testing? Perhaps because she recognized that actually giving such an order would have indicated a depraved indifference to human life, the press secretary I call Dollar General Barbie -- a Harvard Law graduate costumed as a country singer -- told reporters that her boss was pulling our collective leg.

A real kidder, Boss Trump.

The man himself, however, insists that he was dead serious. “Cases are going up in the U.S.,” he tweeted on June 23, “because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!” Just to put a point on it, on June 24 he declared that federal funding for testing would end June 30.

People will still be sick, see, but nobody will know it. Good for Trump, bad for everybody else. Or so he must imagine, because he’s really not all that plugged in to reality.

Faced with a choice between Trump as sadist and Trump as liar, the White House is going with liar for now.

So far, there’s no evidence he’s actually ordered anybody to fudge the data. But the election campaign’s only getting started.