Abortion, gay marriage and gun control used to be the big hot button issues in our polarized politics. Today it’s face masks. To some, face masks are a simple step one can take to try and reduce the spread of Coronavirus. To others, face masks are an assault against God and country. The requirement to wear masks in some jurisdictions and retail stores has provoked fights and shootings. A few people have even been killed.
Over face masks.
On the surface, the uproar is incomprehensible. After all, how long have we peacefully endured this assault on our Constitutional rights?
We also have laws against smoking in buildings, driving while under the influence, and yelling “Fire!” in a theater. At least these three examples are based on a belief they broadly protect public safety. But no shirt and no shoes? At best this only protects the individual himself or herself. There might be glass on the floor, hence the shoes. But no shirt? That’s just about decorum. There is no threat to public safety if some shirtless guy buys beer at a local convenient store or toothpaste at Walgreen’s.
I guess face masks are the proverbial straw, as evidenced in this video.
I don’t recall the last time I witnessed a confrontation like this over shirt and shoes. These two reports from NBC and ABC cover confrontations happening across the country.
In June this year a hearing was held in Palm Beach, Florida, as County Commissioners considered a measure to require face masks in public places. Opponents made angry and impassioned speeches. The Commissioners weren’t swayed and unanimously adopted the measure. These two videos capture the testimony opposing masks.
How Did Face Masks Become Anti-American?
This is a complex question that probably boils down to opinion. There’s no empirical answer that I know of, just anecdotal evidence assembled over time. Some will include this, omit that, and arrive at their own conclusion. With this caveat understood, I will proceed.
Something on the scale of a worldwide pandemic requires a serious and coordinated “all hands on deck” nationwide response. In this case, with a new (“novel”) Coronavirus whose nature was initially unknown — and still is in many ways — it was urgent that all possible measures be taken to figure it out and contain it.
COVID-19 is not unlike the early days of AIDS, or the “Gay Cancer” as it was called in the beginning. No one knew what was going on, but we knew it was serious. Young and healthy people were dying. The gay community had to fight uphill against bigotry and prejudice to gain any serious government attention and resources. President Reagan wouldn’t utter the word “AIDS” for years in fear that doing so would legitimize action to help gay people. It’s not known how many thousands died needlessly because of delayed government action. We’re in a comparable situation now.
At first, the Trump Administration largely ignored and dismissed the warning signs of the pandemic, the main exception being the January 31 travel ban from China. A month later President Trump rallied his base around the idea the Coronavirus threat was a Democratic hoax. A few weeks after that he briefly jumped into “War President” mode but it rang hollow. It’s hard to imagine Roosevelt declaring war had he dismissed Pearl Harbor as a hoax. These early missteps define the Federal response throughout the pandemic, complicated all the more by Trump’s vacillating statements throughout.
With regard to masks, Trump has given lukewarm endorsement at best. During his July 19 interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, he dismissed the idea that masks would have that much impact on stopping transmission. Then this week at his first Coronavirus briefings in 90 days, he all but endorsed them. He also tweeted that mask use is “patriotic.”
Just last month, however, he told the Wall Street Journal the opposite. He claimed that some people wore masks as a political statement him. That would certainly dissuade his hardcore base and other supporters from wearing masks — totaling about a third of country. This was evidenced at the Tulsa rally where masks were few and far between.
It’s a short jump from saying masks are a political statement opposing Trump to declaring masks are an assault against God, liberty and the America they want to make great again. For some, face masks have become a symbol embodying everything evil — including the science their use is based on.
Campaign to Demonize Fauci
Trump finds himself in a bind these days. His handling of the crisis and his opposition to masks (until now) has played well with his hardcore base, not the country at-large. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 64% distrust his handling of the pandemic. This is not an aberration. The polls have been consistent for months. The raw data can be examined and downloaded at FiveThirtyEight. While Trump typically rejects negative polls as fake and flawed, the Administration is attempting corrective action by restarting the Coronavirus press briefings they abandoned three months ago.
Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci have been conspicuously absent at the first White House press briefings this week. To deflect attention and responsibility away from Trump’s personal mis-leadership, it’s necessary to attack science and the scientists — for which Dr. Anthony Fauci is apparently the primary target. He needs to be made Public Enemy No. 1.
Trump has criticized Fauci mildly saying he’s made “some mistakes” and is “a bit of an alarmist.” He’s left subordinates to drop the big bombs, most notably White House trade advisor Peter Navarro who wrote an op-ed in USA Today stating that Fauci has been “wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.” White House staff also unofficially released a list of all Fauci’s supposed mistakes and misstatements — some taken out of context and others reflecting the scientific consensus at the time Fauci spoke.
Fauci’s Cardinal Sin was to state early on that masks weren’t necessary. Gizmodo ran a banner headline on June 16 reading “Dr. Fauci Made the Coronavirus Pandemic Worse by Lying About Masks.” Gizmodo reports that Fauci told CBS News’ 60 Minutes on March 8 that “When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences—people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.” This is true. He said that.
The question is this: Was this really a lie — that is, did Fauci consciously and deliberately seek to deceive and mislead? I believe he did not. I see no credible evidence to suggest he did. As of March 8 the prevailing scientific and medical opinion was that masks offered little protection, might create a false sense of security causing people to let down their guard, and wide public use at the time might restrict the supply, particularly the N95, for hospital staff and other emergency workers coming into direct and repeated contact with patients. It was almost a month later when the CDC changed its guidance in favor of widespread mask usage. NPR reported on April 10 that the CDC changed its position based on new studies the previous month or two. NPR also quoted a CDC spokesperson who reported on evidence from Asian countries “showing that a cloth face covering can reduce the chance of spreading respiratory droplets when people need to be in places with others.”
Science doesn’t come wrapped in a neat package with a bow. It’s a process of investigation where evidence is examined for possible determinants and consequences, and then hopefully appropriate conclusions are drawn. Theories have to be tested. And tested again. Science is neither perfect or infallible. It is, however, our best tool to discern reality.
The Coronavirus, in particular, has been a major challenge. A big question was transmission. How do people catch it? By air? From touching surfaces? Then the infection itself has been curious. It seems to cause little or effect to the vast majority who get it, yet devastates enough people that hospital resources are pushed to the breaking point. Initially it was thought just older people and those with underlying health conditions were at risk. More recently, young and otherwise healthy people are being affected and even dying in higher numbers. The scientific and medical communities have been forced to learn as they go. It’s little wonder, therefore, that the guidance has changed between January and now. And it probably will change still!
All this is a lot to grasp when it’s much easier to just believe in dark conspiracies. Facts and reason aren’t required, indeed they’re obstacles in the way. Innuendo and imagination are sufficient. Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Trevor Noah (full video) did a short sarcastic piece on this recently. It’s a bit silly and exaggerated — but not by far!
Sometimes a Mask is Just a Mask
Freud probably couldn’t have said it better.
For some, however, masks are a weapon and Fauci is just the tip of the iceberg in a vast conspiracy. The Democratic Party, Hillary, Obama, China, the “Medical Deep State” and other sinister forces have all united to end life as we know it.
This “interesting” character spells it out quite vividly. I can’t decide if this video is meant literally and seriously or if it’s a parody. Either way, it doesn’t actually matter. There are people who believe this. To them the evidence is all around, clear and obvious for everyone to see.
To me, this is reality distorted, not unlike a circus mirror. The clown as messenger is apropos.
The opposition to masks based on freedom and liberty strikes me as self-centered, where the only freedom and liberty that truly matters is my freedom and my liberty. It narrows my vision to a pre-occupation with self. The fact that this is a worldwide pandemic affecting billions is lost if I only see masks as a personal attack against me and my liberty. The well-being of others is secondary at best, or most likely ignored altogether.
Coronavirus has invaded every nook and cranny on the planet. It’s not just you and I who are being asked to wear masks, the whole world is wearing them. (I know… I know… I’m proving the case for world domination.)
Euphrasie Sosthene Milandou, Ministry of Scientific Research and Technoligical Innovation
Embassy of the United States in Conakry, Guinea
Freedom to Harm
If anyone reading this post subscribes to the idea it’s all a hoax and/or conspiracy, that the scientists and doctors are lying, and that ending American democracy is the goal, I pose these questions:
- Do you believe the hospital ICUs in Florida, Texas and Arizona all have ample space and resources today?
- Do you believe people really haven’t died of COVID, or at least not more than the flu?
- Do you believe it would be OK for your elderly parents to be in a situation with no precautions for COVID whatsoever?
If you answered YES to all three, then I guess there’s nothing more I can say.
If you answered NO to the third question at least, then I would appeal to you to wear a face mask — just in case there’s the slightest possibility the scientific and medical guidance is correct.
If freedom and liberty is so fragile that wearing a face mask will bring it to its knees, then the cause is already lost.
The concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ imply a group setting, which means our actions have consequences for ourselves and for others. ‘Freedom’ is understood in this society to end where our actions hurt other people — it’s not a free-for-all. Our First Amendment Freedom of Speech, for instance, does not include the right to yell “Fire!” in a theater. Doing so puts other people at risk.
It’s entirely possible that not wearing a face mask also puts other people at risk. If there’s any chance this is true, that wearing a face mask could save a few lives, is that not worth a bit of inconvenience?
In some places masks are now mandatory and the list is growing. In other paces it’s still voluntary. Either way, we each ultimately decide for ourselves whether to comply. I just hope we each opt to exercise our freedom to help others, not exercise a freedom to harm.
Mask images: All Public Domain, most under Creative Commons
CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication – Bangkok, Balacan
Attribution 2.0 Generic – Congo, South Africa
Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International – Nigeria, Rowanda, Italy, Sweden, India, Spain
U.S. Government – Guinea
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