After shedding her mask this week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finally changed its guidelines for vaccinated Americans, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow let a different mask slip in a moment of candor in front of the camera.
When Maddow asked the agency’s Director Rochelle Walensky “How sure are you?” in an interview about Thursday’s CDC update that vaccinated people can largely shed their masks in both indoor and outdoor settings and resume life in a similar manner to pre-pandemic days, Walensky reassured her, “We’re sure.” But after Walensky left the segment, Maddow got personal with her audience. Here’s what she said:
When I was talking to people today about this new guidance and what to ask [Walensky], everybody had very personal feelings about it, and I realized I did too. … Part of it is that I feel like I’m going to have to rewire myself so that when I see somebody out in the world who’s not wearing a mask, I don’t instantly think, “You are a threat,” or “You are selfish,” or “You are a COVID denier, and you definitely haven’t been vaccinated.” I mean, we’re going to have to rewire the way that we look at each other … and have to unwire our preconceptions about what a mask or a lack of a mask means.
Maddow: Be patient and compassionate with each other as we deal with another period of change. pic.twitter.com/By2uXygf6l
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) May 14, 2021
We should give Maddow credit for her honesty because, as she said, these are her personal feelings. Unlike the theatrical opining we often get from cable news pundits, Maddow’s insights on the post-vaccine masking landscape had the flavor of authenticity.
That said, those honest remarks were troubling and revealing. Not only did they drip with knee-jerk contempt for strangers who, for whatever reason, diverge from Maddow’s mask orthodoxy, but they also expose the disturbing extent to which many Americans have rewired their brains to view anyone who declines to wear a public symbol of COVID allegiance on their faces as political enemies, threats, science-deniers, and conspiracy theorists.
While the CDC changed its tune overnight, the science didn’t change that fast. The CDC’s reluctance to update its guidance was irrelevant to reasonable Americans who rightly trusted the efficacy of vaccines and watched case numbers and virus-related deaths plummet as shots went into arms. Well-intentioned, intelligent, and reasonable Americans have read studies, assessed anecdotes, and made personal decisions in accordance with science, and they didn’t need the CDC to update its guidelines to get permission to live in accordance with what they already knew to be true.
Masking as a means of political posturing, however, has infiltrated our newsfeeds and tainted our attempts at returning to normal. A number of vaccinated Democrats, who belong to the self-described “party of science,” are refusing to follow the science for the explicit reason that they don’t want to be mistaken for Republicans.
“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,” said activist David Hogg with a grimacing face emoji. The social media replies to President Joe Biden’s announcement of the updated CDC guidelines are full of the same sentiment.
Masks have increasingly been nothing more than a show of partisanship as more and more people have gotten vaccinated, but Democrats are now admitting it outright as they are forced to come to grips with the fact that the arbiters of science are now saying “no mask.” What is the party of science supposed to do when that science doesn’t support their face-covering totems?
For Maddow, the new CDC guidance has led her to this revelation: “Give people space for whatever they decide.” Here’s the full quote:
“President Biden actually and Dr. Fauci both spoke to that today asking for people to essentially be patient, be compassionate, give people space for whatever they decide on this front because with this changing guidance, we’re going to have changing norms, and we’ve got to give each other space to have feelings about that as we go through what’s going to be a big change that’s going to create a lot of visceral reaction in a lot of us just in our day-to-day lives.”
But isn’t that what conservatives have been advocating for since last spring? Through endlessly changing guidance and changing norms, we pleaded for space from neighbors, Big Tech, government, bureaucrats, and political opponents as we made choices about our day-to-day lives, to wear a mask, see loved ones, get vaccinated, leave our homes, worship, send our kids to school, go to the gym — or not. This has been a key distinction between the parties throughout much of the pandemic. While conservatives said, “Give me space to make my own choice,” leftists said, “We know what’s best, and if you disagree, you’re a selfish, science-denying threat.”
It isn’t the virus that made Americans instantly distrustful of one another. It’s the ruling classes in the halls of Congress and at the CDC and on the set of MSNBC who turned masks and vaccines into a political football and dissenters into threatening and selfish enemies. Now as Americans are given permission (however unnecessarily) that they can go back to normal, they won’t because they’ve demonized the optics of it.
So when Maddow says, “We’re going to have to rewire the way that we look at each other,” she’s right. And it’s a real shame.