Now that most of America has begun opening back up without the predicted spikes in coronavirus and Joe Biden has left his basement bunker, Americans are remembering that there’s an election going on. As normalcy quickly returns some places, so to has the battle for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Chinese virus has left a symbolic mark on the race. The facemask has emerged not just as an issue on the trail, but also as a signal as to one’s likely political leanings.
Donald Trump has taken heat for mostly refusing to mask up while performing his duties. This left the Biden camp with a choice to make when Joe woke up from political hibernation, and they went all in. Now it’s Joe getting into a car in a mask, Joe at a monument in a mask, Joe being interviewed in a mask, and in many cases he is socially distancing while wearing it, which the CDC does not advise.
New York Gov. Cuomo chimed in on the ubiquitous chinstraps saying that they have become, “Almost a point of cultural communication. Wearing a mask now is cool.” He joked about signing an executive order making masks cool.
He’s been making a lot of jokes recently as the Empire State crumbles, but this one had a germ of truth in it. The mask, especially in socially distanced situations is not about science anymore, it’s about signaling that the virus is too dangerous for our lives to return to normal. It sends the message that the pliant wearer will do as they are told and entitles them to heap scorn on those who won’t. Not surprisingly this often breaks down on party lines.
To be clear, almost nobody, including the president thinks that masks have no role to play as we reopen the economy. It makes sense to wear one in close space where you can’t be six feet apart, here in Brooklyn, an epicenter of the virus most people, myself included usually do that. But when walking down the street, or sitting on a park bench there is little reason to believe masks have much efficacy.
For our friends on the Left, Trump’s refusal to wear a mask is irresponsible toxic masculinity that is sending the wrong message and getting people killed, even though Dr. Deborah Brix has explained it’s not much of a risk. Biden, meanwhile, to their minds is leading by example by wearing his mask even when there is no good reason he should.
When you set aside the names of the politicians and parties, the divide that is revealed has most to do with how much control people want the government to have over their lives. Progressives are clear that their answer is a whole lot. From the Green New Deal to “Medicare for All,” banning guns, and now even to surveillance in the case of things like contact tracing, they invite a state that leaves individuals with far less choice and freedom.
One way to describe societies that decide to scrub away individual liberty is faceless; people are identical cogs without unique features. Here we move from the symbolic to the literal as people hide their faces from the world. The most important thing about these people is now that piece of fabric and the compliance it indicates. There will be no smiling.
Joe Biden and the Democrats are the party of the mask, the party of government power and intervention. For them the Chinese virus is an opportunity to seize, as New York City mayor Bill de Blasio put it, to create a new New Deal. Ultimately this election may now come down to a fight between Americans who want to return almost fully to life as it was, and those who seek a less free “new normal.”
This point might be made as forcefully as the Democrats doing a Zoom convention where Nancy Pelosi gives a speech in front of her fancy fridge and a GOP that trips the light fantastic in a rock’em, sock’em in-person live rally event. Should that occur, the contrast could not help but frame the contest. This is the election of the mask, and its just about time to choose your side.