President Donald Trump likes to think of himself as a tough guy. He likes other tough guys. Masks, in the President’s world, are not the sort of thing a tough guy wears.
“But did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him,” Trump asked a campaign rally crowd in Pennsylvania on Thursday of former Vice President Joe Biden. “And then he makes a speech, and he always has it — not always, but a lot of times, he has it hanging down. Because, you know what, it gives him a feeling of security. If I were a psychiatrist — right? I’d say, this guy’s got some big issues. Hanging down.”
HA HA HA. Man did he zing Biden! That wimp wears a mask! What a rube!
Oh wait. Actually, wearing a mask is one of our best defenses against Covid-19, a virus that has killed more than 186,000 Americans and is projected to kill more than 400,000 by the end of this year.
Don’t believe me? How about Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? “We are not defenseless against Covid-19,” he wrote in July. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
And yet, despite occasional flirtations with mask-wearing over the past month – the President of the United States not only refuses to consistently wear a mask in public but also mocks his Democratic opponent – and reporters – for doing so.
At a May Rose Garden news conference, Trump said this of the Democratic nominee: “Joe Biden can wear a mask, but he was standing outside with his wife, perfect conditions, perfect weather. … And so I thought it was very unusual that he had one on. But I thought that was fine. I wasn’t criticizing at all. Why would I ever do a thing like that?”“
In that same presser, Trump asked a reporter to take off his mask so he could be heard. The reporter said he could talk louder instead to which the President responded: “Oh OK, you want to be politically correct.”
That back-and-forth came days after Trump retweeted a tweet by Fox News’ Brit Hume that appeared to mock Biden for his appearance while wearing a black mask during a wreath-laying ceremony.
And it all followed on months and months of Trump raising questions about the necessity and efficacy of mask-wearing even as doctors and infectious disease experts became more and more convinced that something as simple as wearing a mask significantly slowed the rate of transmission for Covid-19.
“I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” Trump said of wearing a mask in the April press conference in which he announced the new CDC guidelines making clear people should wear masks when social distancing was not an option. “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens – I just don’t see it.”
On a trip to a Ford plant in May, Trump said that he wore a mask away from reporters and cameras, but took it off because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
The conflation of mask-wearing with manliness – albeit a twisted sense of what it means to be a man or to be tough – by the President has had clear consequences.
An NBC News-SurveyMonkey poll in late July showed that 86% of Democrats and 71% of independents said they wear masks every time they go out in public while less than half (48%) of Republicans said the same. A Pew poll from late June produced very similar results. Almost two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said that masks should always be worn while just 29% of Republicans and Republican leaners said the same.
Given those data points, it’s no wonder that many Trump supporters simply don’t believe in them. “I don’t believe in the mask, that’s all,” Tony Germaine, a Trump supporter at the Pennsylvania rally on Thursday, told BuzzFeed. “I don’t care, I just don’t believe in it. Because I don’t understand what good it’s really going to do, unless you’re in a high-risk area like a nursing home or a hospital. I think the left is playing the mask thing to the hilt all the way to the election. In my opinion, they’re trying to steal the election.”
I wonder where he got such a wild idea?
And it’s also no wonder, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted on Thursday, that 7 in 10 new coronavirus cases are in states Trump won in 2016.
The continued politicization of mask-wearing by President Trump is, in a word, unforgivable. Masks didn’t have to be political. This is a matter of public health not partisanship. In his continued attempts to equate mask-wearing with wimpiness (and Democrats), what Trump is doing, in a very real sense, is encouraging his most ardent supporters to engage in behaviors that make them more likely to contract the coronavirus. A virus, I will remind you, that is projected to kill more than 400,000 Americans by the end of this year.
CNN’s Allison Gordon contributed to this report.