Freedom from wearing masks as a license to harm–and kill–fellow Americans

Selfishness is as American as apple pie, jazz music, and baseball. With the exception of World War II or the days following catastrophic unnatural and natural disasters like the 9/11 bombings or Hurricane Katrina, the majority of people in America generally have been–and remain–more concerned about what is right and expedient for themselves than they have been about the rights of others.

Yes, I know that the official narrative is that ours is a nation founded on good ol’ Judeo-Christian values. And of all of His righteous teachings, arguably the most enduring (and even non-religion specific) exhortations from Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth is found in the Gospel of Matthew 7:12–“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” 

But the so-called followers of Jesus Christ that founded this nation sure did not pay much attention to this “Golden Rule.” I mean, the very juxtaposition of calling Britain’s King George III a cruel tyrant all the while enslaving Black people and murdering Native Americans and taking ALL of their lands sure doesn’t sound like that Golden Rule meant too much to the “Founding Fathers” or their descendants. Such is how an ironically named Tom Cotton, Republican Senator from Arkansas and one who is prominently mentioned as a future heir to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, could call slavery a “necessary evil” this past week with impunity.

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Because in Cotton’s rhetorical “cotton” picking mind, if the deaths and poor health of Black and Native Americans over several centuries led to the international prominence of the United States and the enduring wealth of whites (and a few fortunate non-whites), then so be it!

Today, we see this same focus on individualism in the totally bizarre “battle of the masks.” On the occasions that I go into a store or pharmacy to purchase necessities, more often than not, I notice the defiant types who do not have a mask on who are looking at me with contempt or a feral glare that almost begs for my engagement. Or, if they are sporting a mask, they are wearing it improperly so as to allow their spit to spray into the air. This, mind you, after months of us being told by the leading experts that wearing masks helps to prevent the exchange of fluids that lead to the Coronavirus infection. But so many American individualists shun these masks because they have bought into the conservative talking points that mask wearing is “political correctness,” or are too dim-witted and selfish to care very much about their health or the health of others as they barbecue, have block parties, or lounge on the beach seemingly without a care in the world.

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Nobel Prize winning economist and NY Times editorial writer Paul Krugman hit these last points home in his editorial yesterday, arguing that: “Support for (not wearing masks) is, if anything, more emotional than intellectual. I’ve long been struck by the intensity of right-wing anger against relatively trivial regulations, like bans on phosphates in detergent and efficiency standards for light bulbs. It’s the principle of the thing: Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account. This rage is sometimes portrayed as love of freedom. But people who insist on the right to pollute are notably unbothered by, say, federal agents tear-gassing peaceful protesters. What they call “freedom” is actually absence of responsibility.”

Indeed, Profesor Krugman. As the number of American deaths marches steadily towards 200,000, and with my own native Florida having more cases than Italy–a nation four times it’s size in population–the tragedy lies in the fact that our elected politicians are incapable of providing the leadership necessary to “flatten the curve” of this disease because to do so would require a level of ‘self-less-ness’ that this selfish nation is seemingly incapable of providing.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks holding his facemask during a press conference to address the rise of coronavirus cases in the state, at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, on July 13, 2020. – Virus epicenter Florida saw 12,624 new cases on July 12 — the second highest daily count recorded by any state, after its own record of 15,300 new COVID-19 cases a day earlier. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Indeed, when Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis flew to Washington to declare “Mission Accomplished” in April and boast at how he in two weeks had done far better than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in preventing the pandemic from spreading, he had no idea that our state’s numbers would surge to catastrophic levels by early summer due to his rush to reopen bars and restaurants to prime the economic pump.

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Now, just look at DeSantis; clueless, combative, and still defiantly pushing to open up public schools and the economy instead of scaling back and slowing up to allow the crisis to wane. But again, DeSantis–like his fellow Republican Governor to the north, Georgia’s Brian Kemp, is more concerned about impressing individuals in his party who believe that their individual right to do what they want to do means more than adhering to dictates that makes us all safer. Which is tragic when considering that some of the most ardently selfish individuals, like my conservative Morehouse College Brother Herman Cain who mocked mask wearing all spring, are fighting for their lives due to the Coronavirus, have buried friends or relatives due to the Coronavirus, and yet STILL refuse to comply by taking necessary precautions to end this deadly scourge.