President Donald Trump held a campaign rally Monday afternoon at Lancaster Airport near Lititz. He spoke for roughly 90 minutes before a crowd of several thousand people who turned out despite rain and gray skies. Trump was preceded on stage by U.S. Reps. Lloyd Smucker of the 11th Congressional District and Scott Perry of the neighboring 10th. Election Day is Tuesday.
President Trump pronounced “Lancaster” correctly, we will give him that.
But much of the rest of his speech at the Lancaster Airport on Monday was a mix of inaccurate, negative, false and mystifying statements.
He talked about RINOs — the term for Republicans in name only — whom he called “the stupid people.” He disparaged former President Barack Obama’s rhetorical skills, shrugged at the notion of Obama as handsome, and asserted that his predecessor is drawing small crowds these days (he didn’t mention that this was by design to limit COVID-19’s spread).
Trump talked about wanting the United States “to be a developing nation also,” like China, so it could get the same considerations on trade. He talked about preferring limousines to motorcycles.
He falsely claimed that Pennsylvania doesn’t allow poll watchers — which it does. State election law just requires that they be registered to vote in the county where they are watching the polls and be certified by that county.
He also implied that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf would do something nefarious with Pennsylvania ballots. “This is the guy who’s in charge of ballots, right, in this state. So what do you think he’s going to do with the ballots?”
Pennsylvania’s chief elections official is not Wolf, but Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar. And elections are run by the counties; in Lancaster County, the chief elections official is a Republican, Randall O. Wenger, who runs an efficient and nonpartisan operation.
Trump expounded on what he believes to be an unprecedented record of presidential accomplishments, foremost among them a thriving pre-pandemic economy and now a recovering one. But he devoted relatively little of his speech to the elephant at the rally (and we’re not referring to the GOP mascot).
He spoke of COVID-19, of course. But he didn’t give it nearly the attention it deserves.
He didn’t offer words of sympathy for the loved ones of the 442 Lancaster County residents who have succumbed to the illness, according to county Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, or for the loved ones of the 8,696 Pennsylvanians whose lives have been lost, according to the state Department of Health.
Instead, he boasted about feeling “like Superman” the morning after he received Regeneron’s antibody treatment, which is not available to most other COVID-19 patients.
He falsely claimed that 99% of Americans who get COVID-19 recover from it. He didn’t acknowledge that more than 226,000 Americans have died of the disease. Or that medical experts believe it can have lingering health effects.
He suggested, contrary to medical evidence, that there are established cures for COVID-19. And he claimed that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready to be distributed to Americans before the end of the year, “maybe substantially before.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he believes a vaccine won’t be widely available until “several months” into 2021.
The president referred to COVID-19 as “the China virus,” “the China plague,” language that those tracking attacks on Asian Americans say fuels the rise in hatred they’re seeing.
The president also claimed that if Joe Biden “and the Democrat socialists are elected, they will delay the vaccine, delay the therapies, prolong the pandemic, and close your schools and shut down your country.” He also asserted that the Democrats suddenly will forget about COVID-19 on Nov. 4, the day after the election, and reopen the economy. (Even if you believe him, it has to be one or the other.)
In our view, the most worrying aspect of the Trump rally was the fact that it was held at all.
Pennsylvania is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases. As LNP | LancasterOnline reported Tuesday, “The rate of new coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania jumped 24% in the past week, compared with the week before, according to Department of Health data.”
Lancaster County, fortunately, ranked 36th among the state’s 67 counties for its rate of new cases. But two of our neighboring counties, Lebanon and Berks, made the top 10 in new case rates.
For the third time in a week, Pennsylvania set a new daily record for new coronavirus cases Tuesday. “The pace of new cases in the state now exceeds that of the pandemic’s spring peak,” LNP | LancasterOnline reported.
We know that people from outside our county came to Monday’s rally.
We also read last week’s USA Today analysis that found that COVID-19 cases grew at a faster rate in at least five counties — including Pennsylvania’s Dauphin and Lackawanna counties — after Trump held rallies there. In Lackawanna County, “the coronavirus growth rate jumped from less than 3% before his visit to more than 7% afterward,” that newspaper found.
In Wisconsin, local doctors implored the Trump campaign to cancel its Tuesday rally because of concerns that it might become a superspreader event. The rally went on nonetheless.
Who might have made such a plea here? The county lacks a public health department. Our congressman, Smucker, attended Monday’s rally, appearing on stage without a mask.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — who told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, “We are not going to control the pandemic” — attended the rally. He wasn’t wearing a mask, either, at least in the picture captured by an LNP | LancasterOnline photojournalist.
Trump actually boasted about the crowd that had turned out to see him. “We have crowds nobody’s ever seen ... in the history of politics,” he crowed.
That might have been something to applaud in 2016. But we doubt any applause will come from the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and other medical providers who will be asked to risk their lives to treat rallygoers — or others with whom they have close contact — should they be hospitalized with COVID-19.
We sincerely hope the rallygoers and those close to them remain healthy, not least for the sake of those health care professionals.
But, aside from those directly behind the stage, most of the rallygoers spurned masks and gathered within inches of one another. Social distancing seemed to be as unpopular as Democrats at the rally.
Those in attendance underwent perfunctory temperature checks, and were required to wear masks to get through security, but mask-wearing wasn't enforced at the rally, so rallygoers were free to cheer and yell, perilously unmasked.
They likely will mock our concern, as they do any concerns that don’t fit the Trump narrative. “The Fake News Media is riding COVID, COVID, COVID, all the way to the Election. Losers!” the president tweeted Monday.
We’re worried about COVID-19 because the highly infectious and lethal disease threatens the residents of Lancaster County. We’d like nothing more than to be able to move on from the subject. But because the Trump administration failed to get the pandemic under control, because the president failed to encourage widespread mask-wearing, because he has ignored and undermined the nation’s top infectious disease experts, we cannot.