Unmasking the New Cultural War
“Masks will not be mandatory for the event, which will be attended by President Trump. PEOPLE ARE FED UP!” Thus tweeted Herman Cain, former Presidential candidate and pizza businessman, in advance of the July 3 festivities at Mt. Rushmore. A few hours later, Cain was hospitalized with COVID-19. His positive test on June 29 came nine days after he attended a political rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cain did not wear a mask to the event.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of masks to cover one’s face when in public settings. The CDC website has an explanation for wearing face masks. “Recent studies show that a significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 lack symptoms (are “asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (are “pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, CDC recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household.”
On June 30, Mayor Paul Kuhns mandated the use of masks in all public settings throughout Rehoboth Beach. However, a cursory review of pedestrian traffic on Rehoboth Avenue reveals that many people have either not heard about the directive, or worse, are just plain ignoring it. With a drive by the nearby outlets, one can easily conclude that people also do not know the proper fit for wearing masks.
Citizenship in the United States has always had a struggle between individual rights and laws that govern the common good. Over the last decade, it is fair to say that the balance has shifted toward individual rights. This attitude outweighs what is for the common good. Some who do not wear masks have several seemingly sound rationales for not wearing a mask.
The constitutional rationale was calmly shared by Vice-President Pence, when he explained why people attending Trump rallies would not be required to wear masks. “Even in a health crisis, the American people don’t forfeit our constitutional rights, and working with state officials—as we did in Oklahoma and as we did in Arizona—we’re creating settings where people can choose to participate in the political process, and we’ll continue to do that.” So, the argument goes, we have a right to gather in large crowds, not practice social distancing or wear masks, and you cannot deny us that right!
The religious rationale for not wearing masks invokes the scriptural story of creation. Nino Vitale, a Republican state representative in Ohio, flatly states, “I will not wear a mask. That’s the image of God right there, and I want to see it in my brothers and sisters….No one is stopping anybody from wearing a face mask. But quite frankly everyone else’s freedom ends at the tip of my nose. You’re not going to tell me what to do.” (Take note that there is a subtle mix of religious and constitutional rationale in this statement.)
Then one encounters the democracy-based rationale for going mask-less. This is verbalized succinctly by Cheryl Chumley, an opinion editor for the Washington Times. Mask requirements are “a blatant violation of an individual’s right to choose—of an individual’s right to self-govern.” These requirements are okay “in a socialist country. In an authoritarian society. In a communist, dictatorial, tyrannical kind of country. But this is America.”
The ace up the sleeve is the medical rationale. The old “I have a medical condition and I can’t wear a mask” is certainly in vogue. A marketing company went so far as to design a faux medical card for people to carry. The verbiage declares the person presenting this card absolutely has a medical condition that prohibits the wearing of a mask, and if you so much as question its validity, you will be reported!
A very recent awakening of sorts has taken place in the offices of the Vice-President and the Governor of Florida. For all his bravado over the last few months of going mask-less, the VP is now encouraging its use. Heading into the holiday weekend, Pence was visiting with Gov. DeSantis and both were wearing masks. During a news conference, Pence asked the general public, but especially young persons, to wear masks. “No younger American would ever want to put at risk a grandmother or a grandfather, a mom, a dad, an elderly neighbor or friend, by inadvertently exposing them to the coronavirus.” And on this same day, Florida had more than 10,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. So, perhaps concern for the common good has become the prevailing attitude of our Vice-President.
Wearing a mask is such a simple gesture. It tells others that you care about their well-being. It shows that you know this pandemic is a real thing. #wearadamnmask.
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrrett at firstname.lastname@example.org