I had some personal hopes that one of the outcomes of the pandemic would be to normalize mask-wearing in this country. In Japan, it is rote to wear a mask on public transport or in the office if you are sick. In Taiwan and China, masks are uncontroversial for a less appealing reason: heavy air pollution. In those countries, wearing masks is an act of basic self-protection.
But no, not in America. Here, wearing a mask to stop the spread of a raging pandemic is considered a political act. That’s because a great gob of the (Republican) public declared that it’s their natural right to spread disease and that it’s "tyranny" for anybody else to tell them not to.
So here we are. COVID-19 cases will surely spike again soon, and Republican leaders are preemptively launching attacks to make sure nobody can do anything to protect themselves.
Presidential aspirant and joyless automaton Ron DeSantis and his wife appear to be kicking off new anti-mask efforts this week, with the Florida governor tweeting, "They want to muzzle your children. Those mandates are DOA in the state of Florida because we've enacted protections for parents and children." His spouse followed up with the obligatory, "No one is fighting harder for children than this guy. He hasn't backed down an inch in Florida, and he won't in the White House. Keep your muzzles off of my kids."
Meanwhile, grifting chameleonic hack Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio is back with another one of his Senate speeches demanding a new mandate banning federal mask mandates because our children "need us to not be Chicken Little about every single respiratory pandemic."
You know, I think by definition a "pandemic" is precisely when you do want to get a little Chicken Little about public safety, but I'm still struck by how Vance and the rest of these “populist” Republicans can watch well over 1 million Americans die in a pandemic and not give the slightest of shits. To them, a million deaths don’t count as a big enough mass-casualty event to warrant mention, much less require a response.
There is, of course, at least one major reason why public safety measures like public mask mandates and temporary closures happened during the early days of the pandemic. It was to keep emergency health care systems from collapsing. Mask mandates were a way to avoid corpses stacking up in hallways, as they did in the pandemic's first months, when treatment options were limited and death rates were high.
And you will note that each time a temporary mandate was lifted, it was on the grounds that local infection rates had slowed again—though whether that was true was sometimes nebulous, especially if you lived in a Republican-governed state.
It's becoming increasingly difficult to not haul off and tell the Ron DeSantises and the J.D. Vances and their believers that, you know what, if you personally want to go die in a corner rather than abiding by a mask mandate, you are more than welcome to go do that. But that's ultimately the problem: None of these public health measures were meant to protect any one person.
The measures were in place to keep these flag-waving, anti-science book-burners from spreading disease in their communities. It's not DeSantis who suffers when he preemptively bans new school mask mandates, regardless of local infection rates; it's all of the children who get infected because Ron is running for president and needs a sales pitch.
New COVID variants are spreading, including one named “Pirola” with enough mutations that it may evade much of our current immunity. And the threat of a new surge in hospitalizations has people like Vance worried that state and local governments might again try to keep their hospitals functioning and their communities alive.
It seems we'll never get to a place where wearing a mask to keep other people from getting sick is considered basic human decency. If there's one thing conservatism has always been against, it's decency. Tell a Republican to be a decent person, and from the reaction you get, you might as well be driving nails into their arms. The mere thought of being decent conflicts with their "freedom" to not be decent at all, not even a little, because being decent is socialist. Or whatever.
Sigh. Well, normalizing masks was a nice dream while it lasted.
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Why does it seem like Republicans have such a hard time recruiting Senate candidates who actually live in the states they want to run in? We're discussing this strange but persistent phenomenon on this week's edition of "The Downballot." The latest example is former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who's been spending his time in Florida since leaving the House in 2015, but he's not the only one. Republican Senate hopefuls in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Montana, and Wisconsin all have questionable ties to their home states—a problem that Democrats have gleefully exploited in recent years. (Remember Dr. Oz? Of course you do.)