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The Politics of Covid

On Thursday, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden renewed his call for a nationwide mask mandate.

Unlike last time, this call came with a few specifics.  First, he said that this mandate should call for people to wear masks outside.  Second, he specified that this should be for at least three months.  While he said that this should be national in scope, he urged the Governors to take these steps now.  Previously, he stated that he would take this step on a national level should he be elected. It was his contention that such a mandate would save 40,000 lives over that time period.

This call came during a press conference he and his new running mate, Kamala Harris, held after being briefed on the pandemic via video conference.  This teleconference was held with Dr. Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General and Dr. Nicki Lurie, a former official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Presumably it is these experts who gave Mr. Biden the figure that 40,000 lives would be saved through this policy. 

This call for a mandate took on a different tone than others as Joe Biden appealed to American’s patriotism.  “It’s not about your freedom,” he said.  “It’s about your responsibility as an American citizen.”

This appeal to patriotism is an attempt to challenge and change the narrative that many had been using for months.  Most states have now adopted a mask mandate (more on that in a bit). Additionally, attempts have been made by doctors, politicians, and celebrities of all stripes to convince the general public that masks are for the protection of others, for the vulnerable.  Despite all of this, there’s still a sizable part of the population that is resistant and appeals to personal freedom in their arguments.

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Fauci concurred with the former VP.  In an interview with actor Matthew McConaughey Thursday evening, he said, “My recommendation, as you probably know because I’ve said it publicly so many times, is that absolutely we should have universal mask wearing.”

President Trump, however, continues to reject calls for a federal mandate.  While he has encouraged mask wearing, and even stated that it is, indeed, patriotic to wear one, he maintains that there is a personal freedom factor that must be respected.  “American’s must have their freedom,” he has said.  “I trust the American people and the governors very much.” Indeed, his policy thus far has been just that, to leave these decisions in the hands of the governors.

President Trump went on to accuse his election rival of playing politics with the pandemic.  Supporting this assertion is the fact that Biden’s time frame of three months for a mask mandate would take the nation to just after the election.  While that in itself doesn’t mean his motivations are less than altruistic, it certainly doesn’t help with perceptions.  Furthermore, there are other indications of political motivation.  Indications that aren’t so easily dismissed. 

One is that Mr. Biden is recommending something that is already being implemented on a wide scale.  Currently there is only one state that has no mask requirement, that is South Dakota (that information can be found here).  Granted, it could be argued that many states don’t have requirements as strict as he would like.  But the fact is every governor but one has taken the steps that he says he would like to see to one degree or another.  Essentially, he is saying this needs to be done and campaigning on the issue even as it is being implemented. 

Now, when I bust out my old college text book on basic logic, I cannot find in the listing of logical fallacies an entry for continually complaining about a problem for which there is already a solution or for which your recommendations are already being implemented.  But that is a fallacy and future text book writers should consider including it.  We will call it the Democrat Fallacy since they seem to make it so often.

Another indication that the Biden camp is using this for political gain is the fact that neither he nor his running mate have said what they would do differently.  The only proposals they make are to take what’s already being done and federalizing it.  Additionally, many of their complaints against the President are that he didn’t act soon enough or strong enough, all while expecting us to forget about how they criticized his actions as unnecessary when he did take them.  The travel ban from China comes to mind here but there are other examples as well.

Now, while it is obvious that Biden and his party are using the Pandemic as a political weapon, it is also true that the virus is dangerous.  Real people have died and have left real families in mourning.  With 5.2 million confirmed cases and deaths recorded at roughly 166,000, the rate of death is a hair over 3% (the number of unconfirmed cases would lower this percentage if they were known, however). 

As the weeks wear on, the attempts to take advantage of the pandemic for political purposes will only grow in intensity.  As it does so, it will become more difficult, yet at the same time more important, for Americans to shut out the noise, distinguish facts from hyperbole, and form their own opinions.  Yet that is what must happen lest we leave ourselves at the mercy of opportunistic politicians who are only eyeing the next election.  

It may be that Americans come to different conclusions.  When you and your loved ones come to different conclusions than your neighbors, the temptation will be to force your will upon them by means of the ballot box.  This is a difficult urge to resist and, when embraced, has damaging results. 

Americans of all political persuasions must resist it, though.  In the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the author, Dale Carnegie, states that no one has ever won an argument.  Even if you get your way by means of arguing, you will have created resentment in the process and increased the likelihood of future confrontations. 

Perhaps in this light, contrary to what Joe Biden says, it is about freedom after all.  By taking away people’s right to not wear a mask, resentment (which was already at a critical level in this country) has grown.  And in fostering this resentment, in coming out on top in this argument, the likelihood of future arguments has grown along with it. 

This resentment, this ill will between citizens, could potentially have long term effects far more harmful. Minor disagreements could become major. Wars of words could become actions designed to hurt others. Refusal to live and let live could lead to living in a constant state of anger, anxiety, and mistrust.

The best way to avoid that is to let people exercise their freedom, even if that is freedom to do something you disapprove of.

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