President Donald Trump held a political rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday as outbreaks of COVID-19 were reaching new highs in the state. Virtually every medical and scientific expert predicted that the rally would further ignite infections and possible deaths, raising this critical question: Would you risk dying to see the president?
Never before in American history has this question been asked. Knowing the risks, why would any responsible president hazard Americans in a closed auditorium knowing full well that fatal infections of COVID-19 would occur. The only questions are how many would contract the disease and how many would die.
The good news is that attendance was mercifully small -- about 6,500 in a space that can accommodate about 20,000. But social distancing was nonexistent and a large number of attendees did not wear masks. By contrast, Japan, with a population about 1/3 of America's, suffered only 1,000 COVID-19 deaths so far. The reason: Everyone in Japan wears a face mask.
About 2.4 million Americans have contracted the disease. About 130,000 have died. While no proven models exist, using these statistics gives an approximate idea of how severe the pandemic might affect the 6,500 attendees at this rally.
Assuming 2 to 5 percent of those afflicted with COVID-19 die, and using the 130,000 deaths as an indicator, that suggests between 6.5 million and 2.6 million Americans have been infected. Even if using the 2.4 million figure of proven infections, that accounts for between .8 percent and 2 percent of 330 million Americans. Using that range, with 6,500 attendees at the rally, between 52 and 130 Americans at the rally will contract the disease.
Assuming in a confined space and without complete protection, one person infects 10 others. That suggests 500 to 1,300 people at the rally are likely to contract the disease. If 2 to 5 percent die, that amounts to 10 to 650 deaths. Is any rally worth those deaths?
No American president would willingly put the public at that level of risk. It is one thing to order troops into battle who may be killed defending the nation. It is irresponsibility at the highest level to put citizens at risk for attending a political rally. And comments that call for less testing for COVID-19 are dangerous, made worse by pretending they were in jest.
How does Trump get away with this? First, the nation is as polarized as perhaps as at any time in its history. Even the common sensical and responsible step of wearing face masks to protect others from possible transmission has been used by Trumpites as a sign of opposing the president.
Second, Trump's concern is fixated on maintaining his base of some 40 percent support. To them, he can do no wrong. And the more disruptive his actions, perversely, the support from his minions grows.
Third, Republicans, particularly in the Senate, refuse to act as a check or balance. Some are afraid of incurring the president's wrath or being primaried. Former Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, who stood up to Trump, fell to that fate. And other senators understandably do not want to lose the majority to Democrats whose left-wing agenda rightly is cause for concern.
To prove beyond a reasonable doubt the cynical and casual disregard the president shows in downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, where are the national strategies for next steps in defeating the disease and for reopening the economy? They do not exist. And the coronavirus task force is missing in action.
No one can predict how the virus will react. Over half the states have experienced major spikes in infections and hospitalizations. Despite the diaphanous claim that these increases are due to more testing, the disease is spreading in America, whereas Europe seems to have "flattened the curve."
In about two weeks, infections and even deaths of the rally attendees will emerge. One can argue, wrongly, that some will die of natural causes no matter. Yet, even if only a few die, was that worth the price of admission?
In the larger scheme, the United States is not acting as a mature and serious nation in dealing with the pandemic. Masks and social distancing must be mandatory. For those who argue that constitutional rights are being violated, the equivalent is that free speech does not entitle citizens to yell fire in a crowded movie theater.
This disease is spread by people. If one has any sense of social responsibility to other citizens, acting in that manner is a prerequisite. The tragedy and danger is the president believes otherwise.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and author of the upcoming book, "The Fifth Horseman: To Be Feared, Friended or Fought in a MAD-Driven Age."