Certified brain genius Donald Trump, apparently troubled not by the roughly 115,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus pandemic but instead by his plummeting poll numbers, has begun planning to hold densely packed campaign rallies in some of the states where the virus is raging its hardest. That’s right: The plan is to cram tens of thousands of Trump’s predominantly older supporters right alongside the anti-mask caucus, with lots of yelling.
What could possibly go wrong? The Trump campaign’s answer: Not our problem — fuck off and die. According to a report by CNN, attendees who RSVP to his Juneteenth rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are being prompted to promise they will not sue Trump if they contract the coronavirus at the event. A prompt displayed to registrants before they can claim a spot asks them to agree that they accept the “inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.” It adds:
By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Centre; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.
The Tulsa venue where the rally is scheduled to be held, BOK Centre, is indoors. The risk of “superspreading,” in which a small number of infected individuals transmits the illness to many others, is known to be highest in crowded indoor spaces. Official Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines urged people to “stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings” with no ambiguity whatsoever — least until Friday, when that language was removed alongside new CDC guidelines on mass gatherings.
The new guidelines, however, still classify “Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 1.83 m apart and attendees travel from outside the local area” as “highest risk.” This would doubtless include Trump’s planned events.
CNN wrote that the campaign believes recent mass protests against police brutality and racism “have opened the door to events like these rallies.” (The risk of transmission among protest attendees is unknown, but thought to be lower than indoor gatherings; still, anyone who went to a protest should get tested.) In addition to giving team Trump a convenient excuse to disregard the advice of public health officials, it lays the groundwork for culture-war gristle that conflates legitimate protests against racism, a major public health threat, with anti-lockdown protests explicitly opposed to coronavirus response efforts and fully optional candidate rallies.
Trump has also expressed disdain at the notion of social distancing measures being put in place, as they would be highly offensive to his ego. He told ABC News in May that “I can’t have a rally with, you know, seven seats in between everybody.” Attendees at a recent roundtable in Dallas organised by the White House mostly did not socially distance or wear masks, according to Dallas News.
According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign hasn’t clarified what measures it might take to limit possible spread of the coronavirus at its rallies. But anonymous ghouls “familiar with the decision-making process” told the New York Times it is unlikely to require social distancing or mask wearing, citing how far along Oklahoma is in its reopening process. (The virus continues to spread fast in the state.) The homunculi in question did say they were considering providing hand sanitizer, but no final decisions had been made.
New York University School of Law professor Catherine Sharkey told CNN that while the public can expect to sign many such waivers in the coming months, they are not ironclad legal shields against lawsuits.
“They only give limited protections, so they never would protect against, for example, gross negligence or recklessness,” Sharkey told CNN. “One could argue that holding a large public gathering that will draw people together in a context in which they’re not able to do social distancing or follow the directive of the CDC, et cetera. One could argue that is grossly negligent.”
Hopefully, Trump rallies won’t end up spreading the virus. No one deserves this pandemic, and as we’ve seen in innumerable circumstances over the last four years, what happens at a Trump rally never just stays at a Trump rally. But if they do, the president’s team has made it clear to his supporters: You’re on your fucking own.