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The Conservative Argument Against Mask Mandates is Stronger than the Media Pretends

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As I predicted near the start of the pandemic, the response to the virus has caused America to be more clearly divided between “red” and “blue” factions than at any time in our modern history. Nothing is more emblematic of this dangerous reality than the dramatic difference in the way that mask mandates are viewed within these two worlds.

People in red/conservative states are far less in favor of government mask mandates than those in the blue/liberal states (today has even been declared a day of “Mask Off” protests in some portions of the country). This disparity was most obvious at the recent political conventions and campaign events, showing that Donald Trump supporters are very likely to not wear masks, while Joe Biden backers would rather go out naked in public after gaining the “Lockdown 15” than being seen without a facial covering.

The news and entertainment media, to no rational person’s surprise, has gone all in on masks in every possible way. Reporters regularly wear them in the field even when it appears they are not absolutely necessary, and those who dare to not wear masks, whether at a Trump rally, or at a football game (even on the sidelines of an NFL game where everyone has just tested negative), are routinely subjected to intense public shaming and ridicule in nearly every variety of media.

To the news media, there is only one rational side to this debate (a phenomenon which, as I have written previously, has pervaded far too much of their coverage of the pandemic). People who wear masks are good, smart, and safe citizens who believe in real science, while those who do not are selfish, dumb, science-deniers who are endangering all of society by not adhering to the rules of the new normal.

The purpose of this column is not to examine scientifically whether masks are an inherently ineffective tool against a virus. But rather to explain the rationale behind those who are against state-ordered mask mandates, and show that this view is not at all worthy of the ridicule it regularly receives in the media.

A key element of why there is such a drastic divide between conservatives and liberals on the mask issue is the different perceptions of how we got to this very strange place. One which would have been unthinkable even as the pandemic first started to hit the USA, where you are now widely deemed to be a bad person if you don’t, as the experts currently all insist, always wear a mask in the vicinity of other people.

To many conservatives, this narrative is fundamentally flawed and illegitimate. This is because the scientific/expert opinion on mass usage of masks changed well into this crisis.

It has been, in Orwellian fashion, almost literally been dropped down the memory hole by a complicit media, but it is still an absolute fact that the CDC, the Surgeon General, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, all advised against the universal use of masks earlier this year when the virus was spreading, and we as a nation were at our most vulnerable. And yet, somehow, there is not a shred of anger or outrage against them from the pro-mask forces, despite the reality that, if masks are so effective, these experts likely cost many thousands of lives, especially in the New York City region.

So, what changed? Those who claim that somehow the science was suddenly fundamentally altered seem to not understand that the issue of mask usage and viruses had been previously studied for many years with ambiguous results.

Even the experts listed here have not tried to make that weak argument. Instead they have essentially admitted having lied about the importance of public mask usage at the beginning of this in order to prevent a run on masks. They also argue that they advised against universal mask wearing at a time when the extent of asymptomatic spread of the virus was not known. To liberals, this appears to be a perfectly satisfactory explanation which leaves their (particularly Fauci’s) lofty position as infallible religious figures untarnished, but to conservatives this self-serving clarification is obvious bull-crap.

The “We misled the public because we didn’t want a run on masks” justification is inconsistent with the tone and the substance of what was said back in March, especially by Fauci, and, even if true, certainly should bring into grave question the credibility of everything else these soothsaying experts have said in this realm (it should be at least noted that Fauci’s own mask adherence has been rather suspect).

So what was really going on? To many conservatives, an alternative narrative is quite obvious.

What changed everyone’s mind was not based on science, the argument goes, but in the politics of self-interest. At the start of this nightmare, no one could have dreamed that a formerly freedom-loving nation like the United States would ever embrace a government edict forcing people to wear masks, but two critical developments changed that presumption.

The first is that, thanks largely to grotesquely overwrought media coverage, abject fear gripped the American psyche. When humans are terrified, they naturally resort to something which will give them a sense of some control over their situation. In this case, the mask became like a child’s security blanket helping them fend off the monsters under their bed.

Secondly, because President Trump was infamously downplaying the virus at the start and was, at the time, decidedly anti-mask, the use of a mask became both an overt and subconscious symbol of opposition to him and his seemingly failing leadership. Therefore, wearing a mask, to a huge portion of the population (especially the liberal elite), became a signal of one’s personal virtue.

Once the experts saw that a strong majority of Americans (and in Fauci’s case, a massive portion of his fan base) were in favor of masks, and we were in a situation where deaths tolls were rapidly rising, the impulse to do something could have become overwhelming. Favoring state-ordered mask mandates instantly and easily achieved multiple objectives for those who flipped their positions for either conscious or unconscious reasons.

But it is not just the birth story of mask mandates which has created enormous distrust of them among a significant minority of the population. There are several other substantive reasons for our resistance which have very little to do with just not wanting to deal with the hassle of wearing one.

  • In order to justify the extraordinary step of the government forcing the universal use of a mask, the burden of proving that masks are so effective, and the emergency so dire, as to validate such an extreme action is very high. Far higher, on both counts, than the data/evidence from this pandemic has so far substantiated.
  • If the government can force you to wear a mask, under penalty of law, what exactly can’t they, in this nation once founded on the concept of liberty from tyranny, make you do?
  • What is the end date for this mandate? If we are forced to wear them now when only slightly more are dying per day than at the height of flu season, why would this edict ever be lifted?
  • Joe Biden’s promise of a “federal mask mandate” if he is elected has been downplayed because it could not be technically enforced, but it would cause profound problems in large parts of the country. Imagine being in a “red” state with no mandate but having the “federal mandate” hanging over everyone’s head and giving every business, school, sporting event the moral authority to effectively make their own rules in a way which would likely cause chaos and division.

Sadly, it is beyond clear that changing anyone’s mind on masks, in either direction, is about as likely as convincing them that the religion of their birth is inherently flawed (though if someone could show me a state where a mask mandate clearly helped reduce cases, hospitalizations and deaths, I personally would be very open to doing so). But the goal here is to at help those who disagree obtain at least some level of understanding of the other side of this contentious issue.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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