By Luis Meiners ISL United States
Trump´s return to presidential campaign rallies in Tulsa on Saturday fell far short of the expected comeback. The empty seats painted a grim perspective for re-election, and set off alarms in his campaign. They blamed protesters, the media, tik tok users and k-pop fans. But, the underlying reality is Trump’s growing weakness as a result of the government’s response to the pandemic, the growing economic crisis and the historical rebellion against systemic racism and police violence.
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On the weeks heading to the event his campaign had said more than one million tickets had been requested, and expected tens of thousands of supporters to show up. They had even prepared an overflow stage outside the arena to address a huge crowd. The huge number of tickets ordered was partly the result of the intervention of a creative protest by tik tok users and k-pop fans who used social media to organize massive requests of tickets that would not be used, purposely inflating the campaign´s expectations.
The actual turnout was far from that. According to the numbers made public by the Tulsa fire department only 6.200 people were present at the venue that can hold 19 thousand. This came after weeks of controversy around the date and location of the rally. The Trump campaign chose Tulsa, city that had one of the worst incidents of racist, white supremacist violence in history: the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. And had initially set the date for 19 June, Juneteenth, the date in which the end of slavery is commemorated. This sparked huge critiques, forcing a change in the date.
The idea of holding an event in an indoor arena in the middle of a pandemic was also a point of controversy. It is part of a bigger debate around Trump’s denialist, anti scientific response to the pandemic. This was worsened by the fact that several members of the campaign which were organizing the event in Tulsa tested positive for Covid 19 in the days prior to the rally.
More signs of decline
The failed comeback at the rally in Tulsa is part of a larger trend of recent setbacks for the administration, it’s agenda and the path to reelection. The combination of the mishandling of the pandemic, the economic crisis and the emergence of a massive rebellion changed the political landscape. This has had several manifestations.
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Two recent Supreme Court decisions have been a blow for Trump on mayor issues in his right wing agenda. The first was the ruling that established that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This upholds the rights of LGBTQ workers, banning their employers from firing them on those grounds. The second ruling was on DACA. The Supreme Court blocked the attempt to end this program which protects immigrants who arrived as children from deportation.
Over the past few weeks some important conservative allies of Trump have begun to distance themselves from the president. Critiques by leading military figures, were followed by those coming from important Republican figures, and even leaders of the Christian right. Polls have also started to show that Trump’s prospects for reelection have become more complicated. He now appears to be trailing behind Biden both nationally and in key states for the electoral college.
The reasons for the decline
The main driving force behind Trump’s decline is the rebellion sparked by George Floyd´s murder. It has shown that there is a massive voice against the right wing agenda of racism and repression. This has strengthened and emboldened opposition to the government, and produced an important shift in the political landscape. This can be seen in polls that show that even the most radical forms of protest have more popular support than Trump – and than Biden as well.
The rebellion has put the government at the defensive. It’s numbers and strength forced Trump, and also the democratic mayors and governors, to retreat from the attempt to crush the movement by force. This generated a split at the top of the institutions of the state, with prominent voices in the military and political apparatuses distancing themselves from the fierce repression.
This has also been fuelled by the government’s response to the pandemic and the economic crisis. With over 120 thousand deaths and 40 million unemployed, the “success story” that Trump tries to force into reality makes very little sense.
A new political situation is opening. The rebellion against racism and police violence has strengthened a new wave of class struggle which had started with a wave of resistance against the bosses during the pandemic. The Juneteenth strike of dockworkers that shut down 29 ports in the West Coast is a mayor development, and adds to the more than 500 strikes and workplace actions against racism over the past few weeks. The mass movements in the streets remains strong and it is gaining concrete victories against the repressive apparatus of the state.
In this scenario, Trump is relying on the mobilization of the most radical elements of his base, to build enthusiasm and try to fight for a chance at reelection. His strategy seems to be to embrace polarization, trying to push forward with his right wing agenda. Presenting himself as a “law and order” president, a defender of tradition, blaming “anarchists” and “antifas” for the protests, and accusing Biden of being a tool of the “radical left”.
The combination of these elements mean that we will see further polarization over the coming months. Class struggle will deepen against upcoming budget cuts. The democrats and “progressives” will try to co-opt and institutionalize movements, and exert huge pressure on the left with the politics of lesser evilism. It is a crucial moment, and the left must intervene boldly and at the same time clearly make the case against Trump and all the establishment, including Biden and the democrats. There are huge challenges ahead, but also historical openings for socialist politics. We must organize to make the best of them.