Commentary

Saving face: Unmasking the mask hypocrisy

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On Monday, May 24, a fascinating social experiment began to unfold across Maine as the Mills administration lifted most mask mandates and social distancing requirements, thus enabling us to finally regain the sense of normalcy we have all longed for.

This joyous news comes just in time for the beautiful summer weather and sets us up for what is expected to be a much better tourist season than the last. However, many Mainers are reacting to this news with angst and confusion. This phenomenon is not unique to Maine – indeed, it is occurring across the nation. The “unmasking”of America is about to reveal the ugly face of hypocrisy, bitterness and cultural division.

With a narrow exception for certain settings around the elderly and immunocompromised, vaccinated individuals who continue to wear masks after the mandates have been lifted will now be forced into a logical corner. They must admit that either masks are now in fact more of a political symbol rather than a mechanism to protect public health, and/or that they are rebuking “the science” behind the CDC’s mask guidance.

The Biden administration is currently taking heat from both sides of the political spectrum for guidance issued recently from both the CDC and the White House itself. Criticism from the right largely stems around why it took so long to lift the restrictions and why the teachers’ unions were apparently able to dictate public health policy, sometimes verbatim. The criticism coming from the political left is claiming that the new guidance itself is “confusing.” It actually isn’t confusing at all. 

President Biden himself tweeted:

President Biden [@POTUS]. (2021, May 13).   The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do. The choice is yours. [Tweet]

This tweet was sent out shortly after the CDC updated its guidance to state that fully vaccinated people can now “[r]esume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing.” There is nothing confusing about this guidance – it’s actually quite clear. The uproar on the left is not due to a lack of clarity about what they should do; rather, it stems from a lack of clarity about what they should think. A bit of background context is necessary here. 

Many on the right have been subject to a steady barrage of accusations regarding the politicization of masks and a “neanderthal” inclination to rebuke science throughout most of the pandemic. The left-leaning media complex has embarked on a non-stop fear campaign, often overstating the severity of the situation with misleading statements and inflated statistics, insisting that any suggestion to the contrary is misinformation or “conspiracy theories.” 

Consequently, much of the public has become worried sick (pardon the pun) to the point of instituting draconian lockdowns and irreparably damaging the educational development of an entire generation. Liberals grew increasingly angry with those of us who appeared to flaunt the rules or dismiss the pandemic as overhyped.

Meanwhile, most white-collar workers worked from home during the pandemic. Better yet, many left their city homes for the comfort and safety of their vacation homes here in Maine and elsewhere. They experienced no disruption in income and got to spend more time with their families. The New York Times (NYT) even made a reference to the “White Collar Quarantine.” 

For many of these individuals, the entire ordeal felt like something of a yearlong snow day.  This bizarre, nationwide, bourgeois pajama party would only come to an end once the threat from COVID subsided. The NYT, Washington Post, CNN and the like, know who butters their bread so stories about the small business owners and blue collar workers that were financially ruined by the lockdowns were dismissed as propaganda, as were stories about the mental health impact on children and the inevitable inflationary effects of the grossly irresponsible stimulus packages from the federal government.

So here we are. Now that the dust is clearing, and the reality of the damage done by the lockdowns becomes more apparent by the day, many on the left are simply in shock. The CDC’s recent issuance of “good news” is the pin that popped their comfortable bubble of delusion. Sadly, many of these folks will double-down on that delusion and retreat further into their corner. For example, David Hogg, a young anti-gun advocate made famous by the Parkland Shooting, generated headlines when he tweeted,

David Hogg [@davidhogg111]. (2021, May 14).“I feel the need to continue wearing my mask outside even though I’m fully vaccinated because the inconvenience of having to wear a mask is more than worth it to have people not think I’m a conservative”. [Tweet]

This tweet perfectly demonstrates what many of us have known for quite some time – masks have become a flag for the left more than a means of protection; they are the left’s equivalent of the infamous red MAGA baseball cap. Now begins the second act in this absurd display of health theater.

Here in rural Waldo County, most stores have already done away with the plexiglass dividers and the mask enforcement – even a week before the mask mandate was actually lifted. Others are holding to the letter of the “law” (although it is not actually a law) and waited until Monday to lift restrictions. That’s fine.

Still, others will be continuing to enforce mask rules, despite the lack of a mandate to do so. At least one store in Unity has stated their intention to do so. When the manager explained this to me, I politely exclaimed, “ok, well that’s up to you but I will spend my money elsewhere” and walked out. To her credit, she smiled and said, “Okay. Well have a nice day” in a very professional manner. Scenes like this are playing out all over Maine this week, and I fear many will not be as cordial as the one just described. 

This should be an opportunity for Americans to come together again, perhaps allowing the summer sunshine to disinfect the wounds inflicted by the bitter partisanship, fear and isolation of the pandemic. But for some on the left, this is an uncomfortable moment, fraught with anxiety.

It’s not because they are confused about when they should be wearing masks; it’s because hypocrisy, bitterness and delusion will be unmasked for all to see. Their confusion is not about how to stay safe; it’s about how to save face.

About Michael Ross Greenberg

Michael Ross Greenberg holds a B.A. from SUNY Albany where he studied History, and a J.D. from the New England School of Law in Boston. He practiced law in New York for 12 years before relocating to Maine. He now lives in Waldo County, where he works as a business consultant and writes about social, political and legal issues.

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