Mask off

Conservatives offer our recovery from COVID-19 as evidence that it was no big deal

© 2020 Neettttttt, used under a Creative Commons license

The current number of Americans partly-or-wholly vaccinated against COVID-19 is 141.8 million; 32.2 million Americans have been infected, and if we remove the 573,000 unfortunates who died of the virus, that leaves about 172.6 million all together who have acquired some protection from the virus. The population of the United States is 328.2 million, so that’s a little more than half of us.

We’re not there yet, but we’re doing pretty well — particularly compared to how we were doing during Tubby’s reign of terror. Look at the Times graph: Compare the pre-inaugural peak of a quarter-million new cases with now. So it’s really encouraging that the CDC — a trustworthy institution once more! — has approved people going maskless in uncrowded outdoor settings.

For a while there, too, we even had some blessed relief from top conservatives, who seemed to perceive, however dimly, that it made little sense to complain about a successful pandemic intervention, particularly after their own hero had so egregiously botched it.

Oh, sure, there were the absolute psychos you’d see in YouTube videos screaming that they have every right to enter someone else’s place of business maskless no matter what they or anyone else thought, bullying store clerks and throwing shitfits when they were expelled. But those were fringe characters, not representatives of conservatism as a whole.


Haha, my regular readers will have caught on — in this day and age, lunatics are not outliers in the conservative movement — they’re the cutting edge. Influencers, if you will.

You’ve seen Tucker Carlson calling for his followers to report parents whose children wear masks outdoors to child protective services. You may have heard of rightwing parents actively trying to stop the use of masks in schools in Michigan and Florida, and Republican Senators and Representatives muscling the CDC to declare masks unnecessary for children.

And they’re moving toward a weird kind of displacement, on the model of typical conservative You’re The Real Racist™ tactics, in which they claim it’s not they who are being unreasonably anti-social — it’s the people wearing masks.

As I wrote about yesterday, the Washington Examiner published an editorial claiming Biden wearing a mask in public appearances looked “foolish” and was actually discouraging people from getting vaccinated by failing to model masklessness as a benefit of vaccination. (As if QAnon-addled Republicans who think Biden and all Democrats are pedophile gangsters would be positively motivated by anything Biden did!)

Erick Erickson, the rightwing radio shouter who unaccountably keeps turning up on Sunday morning political shows, not only groused about mask requirements but also groused about people wearing them — and even claimed that, in those YouTube videos of maskless marauders causing scenes in stores, it was the witnesses who took the videos who were out of line:

But Carlson’s triggering monologue left unsaid the obvious point the press forgot — for the past year, the left and media have been harassing the unmasked, even the unmasked outside at beaches. Armies of MSNBC watching Karens have videoed themselves harassing unmasked hundreds intent on shaming them while being praised by the press for doing so.

Well, what can you expect from people who watched the George Floyd tape and felt bad for Derek Chauvin. (Half-Pint got in on this act, too.)

This insanity is even starting to work its way up to the passive-aggressive neoliberal pundit class. (No, not Yglesias, yet, but soon I expect.) The awful Josh Barro uncorked one this week called “If people give you trouble about not wearing a mask outside, just ignore them” — which headline is reasonable if puzzling, like saying, “If someone denounces your cargo shorts, just ignore them.” I mean, who does that?

But despite being outwardly classier than Erick Erickson, Barro’s pushing the same weird idea — that people who wear masks are The Real Bullies, and people who don’t wear them are their victims:

So if someone looks at you as you walk down the street maskless, do not get defensive or suspicious. Smile. Say hello, if you like. Even if that person is silently judging you (again, likely not) what are they going to do? They’re probably as desperately afraid of confrontation as you are.

Or maybe they, too, are looking for the courage to remove a mask they know is really not useful in this particular context.

(Here’s your permission to proselytize, anti-masker. Remember, in a sense they started it!)

By normalizing a bare face outdoors — showing that you don’t need to be ashamed for doing something that a rational person realizes is safe — maybe you’re helping them get over their own psychological block.

Or maybe they don’t give a shit. Maybe nobody gives a shit. Even if the people you may think are judging you are indeed judging you, so what? Why do you, casual reader of internet crap, need expert advice on how to feel about people who may or may not disapprove of your behavior, let alone react to their imagined offense? The answer, predictably, is a libertarian buddy of Barro’s:

Or maybe, in a rare instance, someone will scold you. Reason magazine’s Robby Soave, who lives in Washington D.C., says he’s been yelled at “something like six times” for exercising outdoors with no mask.

Oh, I totally believe that. I mean why would this guy lie?

And I get it, people find it unpleasant to be scolded. But you are being perfectly safe and they are being overcritical, so why do you care what they think? Feel free to ignore them.

That’s what we all say, feel free to ignore —

Or feel free to remind them that masks are useful indoors but aren’t important in this outdoor context. Or inform them that you’ve been vaccinated. Or, after today, you can even say the CDC says...

Ugh. Normal people will have figured out by now that Barro is just trying to create the specter of an alternate universe where people who go in public without masks are constantly judged, glared at, and verbally assaulted by masked busybodies.

But guys, use your common sense: Where are you likely to have seen anyone even mention to someone who’s unmasked that it’s not cool? Probably in enclosed public spaces where the mask rule is obvious and doing without one is maybe dangerous and certainly dickish.

But Barro and all these guys have pinned their future on the dicks. I’ve said more than once that, a year from now, the official conservative line will be that there was no real pandemic and liberals just forced masking and social distancing on everyone to, oh who knows, make America socialist or Black Lives Matter and some bullshit. And as we begin to emerge from the darkness of lockdown, they’re already laying the groundwork for that fantasy. Ironically, our expedited recovery from COVID-19 is being used as evidence that there was never any reason to try and protect ourselves and each other from it in the first place.