The Masking of America

Should U.S. political leaders emulate Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova and Prime Minister Igor Matovic in wearing protective face masks? Should Governor Ralph Northam wear a face mask? 

by Kerry Dougherty

Here we go again. Seems America’s insufferable micromanagers have moved on from spying on neighbors to shaming strangers for not wearing masks at the supermarket.

You know who you are.

I feared this would happen the moment the CDC recommended that, when out in public, folks should consider wearing fabric face masks.

What’s voluntary one day during this pandemic has a way of becoming mandatory the next.

After weeks of telling us that masks don’t help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that social distancing is the only way to stop it, the CDC announced Friday that it was now recommending the use of cloth masks for ordinary people. You know, the kind that offer even less protection than those cheap paper masks they sell — rather, used to sell, they’re all out — at CVS.

Oh, and the experts tried to make it clear that wearing a mask does nothing to protect YOU from the virus. It offers some protection to others if you’re infectious.

Fair enough.

Here is the exact wording from the CDC:

…CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus. CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”


Yep, but by Sunday folks were posting snotty pictures of folks in public with – dare I say it — exposed faces.

Really, people?

Earlier, on Friday night, a debate raged on social media about whether the president was right or wrong to say he would not be wearing a mask.

The president gets tested regularly for the virus. He doesn’t have it. Why would he wear one?

Just for show?

“With the masks, it’s going to be really a voluntary thing. You can do it, you don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it and that’s OK,” said President Trump at his Friday presser.

Predictably, the people who loathe the president lost their minds over that.

Those who insisted that Trump should wear a mask — even though it would be pointless because he knows he doesn’t have the virus  — said he was setting a poor example for the rest of us.

Because these same people are always using the president as a role model, am I right?


Pressed by unmasked reporters about why he wouldn’t be covering his face, the President said:

“I just don’t want to be doing –- somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know, somehow I don’t see it for myself.”


No one wants to see the leader of the Free World huddled behind his desk, with a surgical mask over his face any more than we wanted to see Jimmy Carter shivering in a cardigan in the White House because he’d turned down the thermostat to save energy.

It signals weakness. We don’t want weak leaders.

Calm down for a minute, I’ll explain.

Presidents are constantly trying to project strength. It’s their brand.

For instance, from Dwight Eisenhower’s second inauguration in 1957 through Bill Clinton’s in 1997, no American president wore an overcoat to deliver his inaugural address.

They didn’t absentmindedly leave them on the back seat of the limo that took them to the Capitol, either. They deliberately went out in winter without coats. To look invincible.

That included John Kennedy who gave his speech in 22-degree weather with a wind chill below zero. All around him stood bundled politicians, their breath forming clouds in the air, but Kennedy stood – coatless – at the lectern.

He looked confident and in charge. As if he couldn’t even feel January’s icy blasts. Perhaps he couldn’t.

If you notice images of presidents greeting world leaders at the White House, they always stand on the portico coatless as their guests arrive in overcoats and scarves.

Look, this doesn’t mean that ordinary Americans look weak when they don masks any more than they look weak if they bundle up when it’s cold.

We aren’t world leaders. We don’t have to worry about our brands.

So wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. It’s your choice.

Just keep your distance.

Oh, and to the newly-minted members of America’s mask patrol, mind your own business.


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16 responses to “The Masking of America”

  1. Here is Governor Northam at a press conference last week. Northam wasn’t wearing a face mask. The man barely visible behind him, Health Commissioner Norm Oliver, wasn’t wearing on. Sign Language Lady wasn’t wearing one. No one was wearing a mask. Should they be condemned…. or can we be judicious about when we wear the darn things?

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The evidence is getting overwhelming that a large percentage of people infected do not develop symptoms, certainly not immediately, and happily go about their business shedding virus. Speaking, singing, laughing are all as dangerous as sneezing or coughing (nobody has shaken hands for a month). But the confusion and indecision are disheartening. I’m sure Trump’s safe in the media room. They’ve probably been disinfecting the hell out of that after every use since long before this…..

  3. CrazyJD Avatar

    I’ve found when dealing with this kind of situation that humor can work best. Back before mandatory helmet laws, some of my motorcycling friends insisted they would not wear a helmet, saying it’s their lives, nobody else’s. I found that pointing out the endangerment to others to be a useless argument. Their family’s economic well being when they become vegetables seemed not to influence them. Instead, I joked about what it looks like to watch a biker die on the side of the road. They were horrified. It seemed to have more of an impact.

    This morning I had a conversation with an inmate who reported that his friends were defying the institution and not wearing masks they had been given. Explaining the concept of viral load and how a mask might just might help seemed to have a positive effect. It became personal to this particular fellow. Then we laughed about how stupid the other guys were for ignoring their own personal safety.

    Shaming is negative. It only works in certain contexts, and must be done very carefully. Hester Prynne is probably not a good model.

  4. This post illustrates very clearly the clash of two viewpoints: “Don’t tread on me” versus doing what public health and safety requires. Overlooked entirely is how to get through this pandemic with the least loss of life.

    The point of social distancing is NOT, how to protect the 20-somethings gathering at the beach or in crowded pubs. The point is how to protect their vulnerable granparents. The point is how to protect 70-year-olds with existing respiratory impairment, like me. They may (eventually or sooner) come down with this disease and a small number will live impaired thereafter or even die from it; but what they do to everyone else is increase the rate of transmission and the consequent burden on our health care system and the likelihood that (a) I will get this disease long before there’s a vaccine for it, and (b) there will be a shortage of staff, beds, ventilators and other health resources when I need them to stay alive. These people who say “No” to the restrictions imposed upon them on behalf of society generally are, in a word, selfish. Grossly selfish. Dangerously (to me) selfish. Maliciously (to society) selfish.

    As the CDC has explained, and Dr. Fauci has explained, wearing a face mask does relatively little to protect the wearer. It is something the wearer does to protect OTHERS. Who knows if the wearer of that face mask is an asymptomatic propagator of this virus? He or she almost surely doesn’t, thanks to the hopeless failure that is our manufacturing and distribution and tight rationing of COVID-19 testing. What we do know is that the risk of spreading this disease is sharply diminished if the infected person has a mask over his mouth to stop the spray of airborne virus-laden spittle onto groceries and mail and carryout food and all the other things that more vulnerable folks will be putting their hands on.

    That jerk (and that’s what I think of him!) who broadcasts his ‘screw you’ attitude by refusing to wear a mask (and he’s proud of it!) is not saying what he thinks of the risk to his own health. He is telling everyone what he thinks of the risk he poses to MY health. And I resent it.

    I resent it when the President declares, “. . . but I don’t intend to wear one; it’s voluntary.” Having so rarely demonstrated any capability for empathy and compassion for others that I did not expect it in this instance either, nevertheless, one might have hoped that the President would not undercut his own health care advisers, indeed his own declaration of national policy, so publicly. What is the point of the tremendous sacrifices we are all making to sustain social distancing — the shutting down of the economy, the closing of offices, schools, churches, sports, restaurants, the isolation of families at home? What is the point of all that sacrifice when the jerks among us are allowed — even encouraged –to undercut it by their actions, in effect giving the middle finger to public policy intended to protect everyone? “It’s all voluntary,” they brag? They are proud of how they flout the social pressure to conform? They probably have no loved ones they care about, and of course they’re invincible; no harm will come to them; they laugh at danger!

    I am not laughing.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    Where would one even get a mask these days? I look for 22″ by 22″ bandanas online yesterday. They were sold out. It seems to me that telling people they should wear masks to the grocery story is like telling them to ride a unicorn to the grocery store if masks are unavailable.

  6. djrippert Avatar

    The only valid reason for a mandatory lockdown is to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed. Once that threat is passed the mandatory lockdown will have to come down. And, assuming the health care systems weathers the peak, the mandatory lockdown needs to end shortly after the peak is passed. People who consider themselves to be in vulnerable groups may have to voluntarily lock down for much longer than the peak. They should stay indoors, practice social distancing with those in their homes (who are not locked down) and take any precautions they feel necessary. However, demanding a mandatory lockdown until a vaccine is ready is a non-starter. Life involves risks and there is a large segment of the population who understand the risks of infection and are willing to take that risk by going out and about. Once the peak has passed, that should be their choice.

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar


    2. That’s correct. At that point, after the peak has passed, their actions won’t directly impact me even while I wait in isolation. Except, there is plenty of evidence that relaxing the “lockdown” too broadly will simply lead to a (postponed) surge in cases, renewing the threat or reality of overloaded health care facilities, until such time as the population has developed enough herd immunity. And if we reach the point of 80%+ saturation of the population with this virus before a year is out, we will have suffered one hell of a peak to get there, which is not what is forecast. No, as a practical matter, it’s most likely that a vaccine will come sooner than we achieve herd immunity. And until that day, the rationale for maintaining the “lockdown” isn’t going to go away, merely peoples’ patience.

  7. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    BTW, the weave of a piece of cloth in a bandana compared to the size of a virus will look like a chain link fence to a gnat.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Yeah but I’ll look cool wearing it, like a modern Jessie James.

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          I like it! You get two that match!

  8. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

    One thing for sure, people don’t like being told what to do. Americans are fiercely stubborn, hard headed, independent minded, and distrustful of experts.

  9. Atlas Rand Avatar
    Atlas Rand

    It seems like homemade masks can reduce transmission likelihood, though the experts disagree by how much. The main benefit is against droplets, since the weave gaps are too large to prevent aerosols. I will be wearing a mask henceforth when out for groceries, as even a 5% reduction in the likelihood of my contracting it is better than nothing.

  10. Atlas Rand Avatar
    Atlas Rand

    I think it has already been removed, but for your amusement:

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