For Donald Trump, everything is a matter of opinion. If he says a contraindicated prescription drug works against COVID-19 then it works, even if it doesn’t. If he says 100,000 dead Americans is a great job, it’s great, even when it so very much isn’t.
And apparently masks are another thing that are just an opinion. Trump has repeatedly refused to wear one, even when every person around him was wearing a mask. He’s refused to wear one even when local regulations required that he wear a mask. And as Trump has refused to wear a mask, he’s also fueled a growing number of bullies and plain old jackasses among his followers who have been harassing people whose only crime is trying to protect everyone’s health. Unsurprisingly, Trump tossed fresh kindling on that fire Wednesday morning by retweeting a claim from The Federalist that masks aren’t about health but “social control,” and that Joe Biden wearing a mask endorses “slavery.”
So many different viewpoints! https://t.co/DCesPbJu5M
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
In forwarding the federalist op-ed, Trump tweeted that there were “so many different viewpoints!” about masks. But … no. There are only two.
One is that of people who understand that wearing masks provides safety both for the wearer and for broader society. It’s like wearing a seat belt that also protects people in the other car. And pedestrians. And those pedestrians’ doctors. And those doctors’ parents.
And then there are those who, for political purposes, are trying to make masks into something other than a public health measure. Those people are willing to put the lives of everyone at risk for the purposes of engendering division, sparking hatred, inciting bullying, and triggering violence.
Not even every Fox News host is in the latter camp. Even someone as regularly willing to flog injustice for a momentary gain in ratings or power as Sean Hannity has recognized that wearing a mask provides protection and is something that should be done to protect everyone you care about. But other Foxites, like Laura Ingraham, have fueled the flames of treating masks as political symbols.
In many cases—including Ingraham’s—the effort to turn masks into a political symbol isn’t just tragic, it’s also transparent. For weeks, Ingraham actually supported wearing masks, until the right solidified around the “reopen” movement and masks became a visible symbol for people who it was okay to harass—a symbol of the “sheep” that Trump supporters should threaten and attack.
Autocrats always find it handy to have a marker for those who are in their camp, like an armband. Or a red hat. It’s handy to have a symbol for people on the other side. Like a mask designed to protect them and others against a deadly disease that definitely has not gone away.
Under Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, Cambodians were condemned to death for wearing glasses. Americans may not be getting dragged into the killing fields, but 100,000 Americans are dead—and every American who is intimidated into not wearing a mask by Trump, the federalist, and the whole span of the right that is trying to make a safety measure into something it is not—has put them at risk of death as surely as if they had taken out a machete.