For months now, I have been at an absolute loss regarding conservatives reticence to wear face masks. Look, on some level, I get it. I look around sometimes, when I’m out in public, and wonder at how much of a difference a few months can make. Sometimes I feel like we’re all living in the world’s biggest prank show.
Where I live, in a blue area, mask wearing adherence is effectively 100%. In the past four months, the only time I’ve seen people not wearing masks inside stores has been when I’ve driven through rural areas and have stopped for gas. I’ve done this in three different states, and each time the experience has been the same—suddenly, inexplicably, there are no masks. It’s like entering another world. Across the country, resistance to mask-wearing has been primarily—nay, I think I can say entirely—a conservative phenomenon.
Wearing a mask is one of the simplest ways we can prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This is no longer a scientific question. We know masks help. Their primary role is in protecting those around us, because people can be sick and not know it, and masks help each of us contain our own germs. But masks are also a way of protecting ourselves, as even some barrier is likely to decrease the amount of virus we inhale if we are exposed—and scientists believe a higher viral load is one reason some people have the disease worse.
So why the resistance? It’s such a little thing. It’s bizarre.
Now yes, many conservatives do wear masks. But Trump has made a huge point of avoiding wearing one wherever possible, and many of his followers—and other conservatives as well—have followed suit. Take the Amy Coney Barrett nomination event at the Rose Garden Saturday before last, for example:
Judge Amy Coney Barrett allowed her kids to sit in the front row during the Rose Garden ceremony without masks…? pic.twitter.com/couX6mV9gY
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) October 3, 2020
I realize that this event was outdoors, and that the risk of transmission is lower outdoors. But this isn’t an either or kind of thing. Even if you’re outdoors, you still need to either distance or wear masks, or both.
Remember the Black Lives Matter protests, which started in late May and are still ongoing in many cities? These protests took place outdoors, but their organizers also consciously created a culture of almost universal mask wearing. Where possible, organizers also encouraged protesters to distance (or to march, as epidemiologists were clear that remaining stationary also increases risk). In other words—they actually cared.
That image above? That is a picture of not caring.
Here, here’s another:
— ABC News (@ABC) October 2, 2020
There are only a small handful of masks in that picture. It should be patently obvious that sitting in a crowd like this, tightly packed together, for any length of time, without masks, is unwise.
And guess what! It turns out it was unwise! The number of people who were present at that ceremony that have now tested positive is only growing. While it’s hard to tell without rigorous contact tracing—contract tracing that no-one at the White House appears to be doing—it appears that this was a super-spreader event.
There was no reason this had to happen. Absolutely no reason. It would have been simple to require everyone attending the event to wear a mask, and to spread the chairs apart a bit. It would have been so easy.
And yet, here we are. For god knows what reason, conservatives have decided to become the party that rejects COVID guidelines and all but encourages this virus to spread. Which is odd, given that conservatives also claim to be pro-life. Of course, we know that conservatives favor the death penalty and oppose universal healthcare, none of which is particularly pro-life. I get that. Still, I did not have reject public health measures and aid and abet the spread of a deadly virus on my bingo card.
(I probably should have, but in fairness, I did not have live through a life-altering deadly pandemic on my bingo card either.)
It’s not just the event in the Rose Garden, either.
My source then found out why the hotel was so packed: the maskless people were in town to attend the prayer march.
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) October 3, 2020
This prayer march was no amateur thing. Mike Pence and Franklin Graham both spoke at it. And yet, the march’s attendees were so opposed to masking that they refused to wear masks a hotel—despite it being required there—and rejected other guests’ requests that they put on masks. You know. For the safety of other people. This isn’t just reluctance to wearing masks, it’s active resistance, and it’s at a prayer march.
For contrast, we haven’t seen this kind of mask resistance at any of the Black Lives Matter marches. There, people were happy to wear masks to protect each other. Here—at a prayer march—evangelical Christians are willfully endangering their lives and the loves of those around them, including complete strangers.
Here are some photos from the prayer march:
If you thought pictures of the Rose Garden event were bad, look at pictures from the march. pic.twitter.com/1EusJ0EJCV
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) October 3, 2020
No, I don’t see many masks either. A handful, but not many. Now yes, the march is outdoors, and while the photos are unclear, if it involved actual marching, they were in movement. But the lack of masks still sets a stark contrast with Black Lives Matter marches. Why do ostensibly “pro-life” evangelicals care so much less about taking simple public health steps to stop a deadly global pandemic than do anti-racism protestors?
Oh and by the way, Pastor Greg Laurie, who was at the prayer march with Pence and Graham, and then at the Rose Garden ceremony tested positive on Friday. The number is crowing.
So. How can we explain conservatives’ utterly reckless approach to public health? Several ways. I’m probably missing some, but here are a number of contributing factors, off the top of my head.
First, conservatives frequently embrace a fatalistic mindset, on the justification that God is at work and will save who he chooses. The idea that everyone already has a foreordained time when each person will die—and that nothing you can do will change this—was common in evangelical circles when I was a child. Check out this article by John Piper, who repeated this quote: “You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete.” If God holds life in his hand, no one will die without his say-so—and conversely, when it’s your time to go—even if it’s by a global pandemic—it’s your time to go, and you can’t change that.
Second, conservatives don’t particularly believe in science, or in scientists. For over a century now, evangelicals have spread claims that evolution is not true, discrediting both the scientific method and scientific expertise along the way. Given this, it’s not at all surprising that some evangelicals would conclude that the virus is a hoax, or that scientists are politically motivated and not to be trusted.
Third, conservatives don’t believe in government. It’s often been said that conservatives say that government does not work, and then set out to prove it. And frankly, it’s true. Conservatives don’t think government is the solution to nearly any of the problems people face in life. It’s not surprising, then, that so many conservatives would support only voluntary cooperation with public health measures—and view government efforts to get ahead of the pandemic as nefarious overreach, or even authoritarian communism.
Fourth, conservatives embrace toxic masculinity, which leads to a rejection of public health measures. This is where I want to focus for a moment. Have a look at this tweet:
Mike Huckabee discussing the Trump Covid situation: “We are the party of the emancipation proclamation, not the emasculation proclamation”
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) October 4, 2020
“We are the party of the emancipation proclamation, not the emasculation proclamation”? What does that even mean, exactly? I’m sure Huckabee thought he was being clever, but that was not clever.
Some conservative men have experienced masks as emasculating. Trump has, certainly. But it’s more than that. Toxic masculinity brings with it fear of being a pussy. And that means a resistance to being careful, a resistance to taking precautions, and a resistance to public health measures. For example, even today men are still less likely to wear seatbelts. Men aren’t sissies, see. Being cautious shows weakness.
Except that taking science-based public health measures designed to save lives does not, of course, make one weak. It makes one smart, and compassionate. But again, this is why it’s called toxic masculinity.
I’m still not convinced we’re not living through the world’s largest prank show. Sometimes I think I just need to wake up. Sadly, this appears to be reality, and the reality is that conservatives—and evangelicals—are currently the biggest threat to our nation’s public threats. Republicans have become the party of death.
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!