On Thursday morning, Donald Trump, again, showed how little he understands about public health and the job of a president in a time of pandemic.
How? He retweeted a link to this article – headline: “Mandatory Masks Aren’t About Safety, They’re About Social Control” – in the Federalist, a pro-Trump conservative website. While Trump likely didn’t read the piece to which he passed along to his 80+ million Twitter followers, had he done so, he would have found passages like this one:
“In addition to extending the fiction that we are in an emergency sufficient to trigger the extra-constitutional authority of local and state executives, mandatory masking acts as a peer pressure-fueled signal that encourages conformity to our coming ‘new normal.’”
And this one:
“If everyone is wearing a mask, it telegraphs a society-wide acceptance that the status quo has changed, and with that consensus other changes can come, too. Society will be primed to accept measures that most normal Americans would reject in any other time. Our new normal will include a permanent expansion of the bureaucracy and alarming new COVID-related regulations.”
So, yes, the entire piece reads like an overwritten English essay by a college freshman trying to impress a teacher. (I’m surprised there was no mention of Derrida or Lacan!)
But more importantly, the article – so bent on making the case that wearing a mask is the first step down a slippery slope to government controlling every aspect of our lives under the aegis of dealing with the coronavirus – overlooks this apparently inconvenient fact: Masks are demonstrably proven to lower the chances of spreading the coronavirus.
Here’s the CDC on why wearing masks matters in this moment:
“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
And here’s Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, on mask-wearing:
“What we have said to people is there is clear scientific evidence now, by all the droplet experiments that happened, and that others have done, to show that a mask does prevent droplets from reaching others. … Out of respect for each other, as Americans that care for each other, we need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance.”
Like, it’s not complicated. Masks keep us from spreading droplets that may carry the coronavirus in them to other people. So, unless and until we have a vaccine that is proven broadly effective, we should wear them.
And yet, the President of the United States continues to not only not wear a mask in public settings but is also now ramping up skepticism about the need to do so.
What did Trump say about the Federalist article, you ask? This: “So many different viewpoints!” Yes, really.
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That is like me and an actual medical doctor being asked to diagnose a patient complaining of shooting pains in her lower right abdomen. The doctor says it’s likely appendicitis and surgery is required before it bursts. I, an English major who has never taken a single class on medicine or, uh, doctoring, say that it is a manifestation of the existential dread created by the fundamental knowledge that we will all die one day.
So many different viewpoints! Who’s to say who’s right????
Aside from the question of whether, medically, Trump needs to wear a mask in public, there’s this: Leaders lead.
Because we know that wearing a mask, at least for now, helps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Trump, as the single highest-profile leader in the country, should be wearing one – whether or not it is absolutely required. To show people that wearing a mask isn’t about, uh, creeping government control or masculinity or anything else other than being as safe as we can be, not just for ourselves but for the most vulnerable among us.
“I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that’s the kind of thing you should be doing,” explained Dr. Anthony Fauci recently when asked why he wore a mask.
That Trump is not doing that is bad enough. That he is actively seeking to undermine his own medical experts by touting the idea that reasonable people can disagree about the necessity of wearing a mask to slow the spread of coronavirus is beyond the pale. And deeply, deeply irresponsible.