What Underlies the G.O.P. Commitment to Ignorance?

As everyone knows, leftists hate America’s military. Recently, a prominent left-wing media figure attacked Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring, “He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.”

Oh, wait. That was no leftist, that was Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. What set Carlson off was testimony in which Milley told a congressional hearing that he considered it important “for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read.”

The problem is obvious. Closed-mindedness and ignorance have become core conservative values, and those who reject these values are the enemy, no matter what they may have done to serve the country.

The Milley hearing was part of the orchestrated furor over “critical race theory,” which has dominated right-wing media for the past few months, getting close to 2,000 mentions on Fox so far this year. One often sees assertions that those attacking critical race theory have no idea what it’s about, but I disagree; they understand that it has something to do with assertions that America has a history of racism and of policies that explicitly or implicitly widened racial disparities.

And such assertions are unmistakably true. The Tulsa race massacre really happened, and it was only one of many such incidents. The 1938 underwriting manual for the Federal Housing Administration really did declare that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”

We can argue about the relevance of this history to current policy, but who would argue against acknowledging simple facts?

The modern right, that’s who. The current obsession with critical race theory is a cynical attempt to change the subject away from the Biden administration’s highly popular policy initiatives, while pandering to the white rage that Republicans deny exists. But it’s only one of multiple subjects on which willful ignorance has become a litmus test for anyone hoping to succeed in Republican politics.

Thus, to be a Republican in good standing one must deny the reality of man-made climate change, or at least oppose any meaningful action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. One must reject or at least express skepticism about the theory of evolution. And don’t even get me started on things like the efficacy of tax cuts.

What underlies this cross-disciplinary commitment to ignorance? On each subject, refusing to acknowledge reality serves special interests. Climate denial caters to the fossil fuel industry; evolution denial caters to religious fundamentalists; tax-cut mysticism caters to billionaire donors.

But there’s also, I’d argue, a spillover effect: Accepting evidence and logic is a sort of universal value, and you can’t take it away in one area of inquiry without degrading it across the board. That is, you can’t declare that honesty about America’s racial history is unacceptable and expect to maintain intellectual standards everywhere else. In the modern right-wing universe of ideas, everything is political; there are no safe subjects.

This politicization of everything inevitably creates huge tension between conservatives and institutions that try to respect reality.

There have been many studies documenting the strong Democratic lean of college professors, which is often treated as prima facie evidence of political bias in hiring. A new law in Florida requires that each state university conduct an annual survey “which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented,” which doesn’t specifically mandate the hiring of more Republicans but clearly gestures in that direction.

An obvious counterargument to claims of biased hiring is self-selection: How many conservatives choose to pursue careers in, say, sociology? Is hiring bias the reason police officers seem to have disproportionately supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, or is this simply a reflection of the kind of people who choose careers in law enforcement?

But beyond that, the modern G.O.P. is no home for people who believe in objectivity. One striking feature of surveys of academic partisanship is the overwhelming Democratic lean in hard sciences like biology and chemistry; but is that really hard to understand when Republicans reject science on so many fronts?

One recent study marvels that even finance departments are mainly Democratic. Indeed, you might expect finance professors, some of whom do lucrative consulting for Wall Street, to be pretty conservative. But even they are repelled by a party committed to zombie economics.

Which brings me back to General Milley. The U.S. military has traditionally leaned Republican, but the modern officer corps is highly educated, open-minded and, dare I say it, even a bit intellectual — because those are attributes that help win wars.

Unfortunately, they are also attributes the modern G.O.P. finds intolerable.

So something like the attack on Milley was inevitable. Right-wingers have gone all in on ignorance, so they were bound to come into conflict with every institution — including the U.S. military — that is trying to cultivate knowledge.

That momement when he realizes he put a Jim Crowe era slogan in the bill claiming isn’t voter-suppression

Rep. Anchía Questions Author of Texas Voter Suppression Bill

The New Feudalism: A lot of our Problems are Education Problems

13:31
climate change is an education problem
13:33
mm-hmm okay the numbers tell E Barrett
13:35
out the percentage of people with PhDs
13:37
who don’t believe climate change is real
13:40
is trivial the percent if you have
13:41
master’s degrees is maybe a little
13:43
higher but right if if you double the
13:46
percentage of Americans with a college
13:48
degree there’d be no problem of climate
13:50
change denial in this country and then
13:52
what that would mean is the world would
13:55
not would have a would actually have a
13:57
shot at maybe addressing it in a way
13:59
that right now looks unlikely a lot of
14:02
our problems are education problems in
14:04
disguise
14:05
because the ability to believe in fake
14:08
things is essential to upholding the
14:12
kind of system that we have otherwise
14:14
how do you explain in a democracy a
14:17
system that doesn’t work for most people
14:18
it makes no sense well people have to be
14:22
persuaded to believe in things that are
14:24
not real the democracies become a
14:26
plutonomy where the power of that vote
14:29
is diminished and the more you can
14:31
manipulate people as you just described
14:33
the more power the money has relative to
14:37
the individual and I’ve been trying to
14:38
help people see the connections between
14:40
each of these stories you know I was
14:42
just saying today you know we have a
14:44
story in the news of Michael Bloomberg
14:46
giving 1.8 billion to John Hopkins very
14:48
nice gift but why does he have that
14:50
money why is that happening that way
14:52
then you got a couple days before this
14:55
bombshell story on Facebook and how it
14:59
totally looked the other way as the
15:01
Russians were waging cyber war on this
15:03
country to basically protect itself from
15:05
government scrutiny then you got the
15:07
story of Amazon running a The Bachelor
15:09
contest on American cities getting you
15:12
know a tax break for the world’s richest
15:14
man you know then you go back and we
15:16
just have the 10-year anniversary of the
15:18
financial crisis and basically now 10
15:20
years later it turns out the only people
15:22
who are fully recovered from it other
15:24
people who caused that and on and on and
15:27
on and on these are all connected and I
15:30
think we are not who we think
15:33
we are in this country and we are living
15:36
in an America that is the opposite of
15:38
our self-image if you ask if you stop at
15:41
any red state blue state small town big
15:44
city farmstand and you say what are your
15:48
kind of central ideas of what this
15:49
country is about one of things that come
15:51
up very fast in my experience is
15:53
American dream like whatever effort you
15:55
put in that’s where you end up this is
16:00
actually leat less true in America than
16:03
in any other rich country the thing we
16:05
think is our thing is like the opposite
16:08
of our thing ours is actually the most
16:10
cast we are the kind of most cast
16:13
Society among the rich countries and by
16:18
the way the reduction of funding for our
16:22
public universities like University of
16:25
Michigan where you went to school where
16:27
I grew up around or Cal Berkeley they’ve
16:32
ceased to be vehicles of upward mobility
16:34
and according to Raj Chetty study with a
16:37
number of colleagues the University of
16:41
Michigan now has more people from the
16:42
top one percent then from the bottom
16:45
sixty combined as undergraduates and
16:48
that’s 40,000 students that’s not some
16:50
boutique College picking off trust fund
16:52
kids that’s how they got to sustain
16:54
themselves out of the hole like you said
16:57
the mask is like all occluding our
17:02
vision of what’s really happening you
17:04
know sometimes you can have like a very
17:06
bad disease that remains invisible in
17:11
your body right there’s cancers that you
17:13
people have for years without realizing
17:15
they have cancer and then and then it’s
17:18
too late I think we’ve had a cancer for
17:20
a while in terms of the veneration of
17:23
wealth thinking that people are smart
17:25
just because they’re rich thinking they
17:26
know what our school should be like just
17:27
because they made money in hedge funds
17:29
thinking that they you know have insight
17:31
into how we should fight diseases just
17:33
because you know they made a soft drink
17:34
company and cause diseases and that
17:39
cancer has been in our society for a
17:42
while and it was pretty much undetected
17:44
people weren’t critiquing these things
17:46
Mark Zuckerberg a few years ago
17:48
announced I’m giving 99% of my wealth
17:50
away I mean every newspaper story was
17:52
this like puffy like gauzy philanthropy
17:56
thing I think Trump is the moment where
18:00
we realize we have cancer and I
18:04
appreciate him for that
I appreciate the
18:07
way in which he is flamboyantly made
18:10
visible many of the ugliest tendencies
18:14
of our society he is the incarnation of
18:18
so much of what is bad in a culture
that
18:22
Revere’s money and he has tased Rama
18:26
ties so many of the things I write about
18:28
in this book the the notion that the
18:31
people who caused our problems are best
18:32
equipped to solve them somehow
18:34
the notion that you can kind of seek to
18:37
enrich yourself and sort of fight for
18:38
the common man at the same time when
18:40
when the notion that you can you know be
18:46
that just because you’re a
18:47
businessperson you have like you know
18:49
these special skills to solve any other
18:51
problem that have nothing to do with
18:53
your lane
well I think the the
18:57
sensibility you know we talk about new
18:59
economic thinking like it’s this model
19:02
versus that model or whatever but you’re
19:05
penetrating to a different level which
19:09
is what I would call the emotional
19:11
contours of who you want to be and who
19:14
you allow to be the judging jury of the
19:18
meaning of your existence and by
19:20
understanding the context in which ideas
19:23
are formed and how they William are
19:26
called resonate with value it challenges
19:33
us all to think about governance
19:38
media what matters to us
19:42
you’re really you’re opening up a lot of
19:45
structures that people who just played
19:47
my model versus your model never
19:50
considered and I think that that to me
19:53
that’s a very beautiful contribution
19:56
that you’re making thank you
19:57
and will help us all go deeper Cornell
20:02
west the famous theologian and scholar
20:05
said to me one time we were on stage at
20:07
the Union Theological Seminary she said
20:09
Robert sometimes you know you don’t
20:12
understand what you have to do is get
20:15
quiet and go deeper until you can come
20:18
back yeah and I think the challenge that
20:20
you mission in this book for all of the
20:22
thinkers the intellectuals the scholars
20:25
were the people who think that they have
20:28
some kind of right to know a
20:31
paternalistic design architecture for
20:34
society I think you’re shaking us all up
20:37
and I and I’m grateful to you for you
20:39
thank you so much

Dave Ramsey, Christian personal finance guru, defies COVID-19 to keep staff at desks

Christian personal finance advice celebrity Dave Ramsey, who plans a major, in-person staff Christmas party, sees wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 spread as a sign of fear rather than faith.

NASHVILLE (RNS) — Christian personal finance guru Dave Ramsey hopes his staff will spread peace and goodwill during the Christmas season.

They may also be spreading COVID-19.

Ramsey Solutions, the company founded by the bestselling author and radio host, plans to host “Boots & BBQ,” a large in-person Christmas party, for hundreds of staff members at the company’s Franklin, Tennessee, headquarters, despite an outbreak of more than 50 cases at the company’s headquarters as late as mid-November.

An invitation, sent to the company’s 800 staffers in a newsletter obtained by RNS, advises that no children are allowed at the Christmas bash and that employees are limited to one guest apiece. No mention is made of masks being required.

In staff meetings and on his radio show, Ramsey described masks and other COVID-19 prevention strategies as a sign of fear.

The Ramsey Solutions invitation to the 2020 Christmas Party. Submitted image

More than 2,500 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Tennessee, where more than 5,200 people have died of complications from the virus. There have been more than 428,000 cases of COVID-19 in the state.


RELATED: With vaccines on the horizon, faith leaders could play a crucial role in promoting their use


Ramsey Solutions does not require masks at its offices — Dave Ramsey himself has been a vocal opponent of mask-wearing and other COVID restrictions. In a clip from his daily radio show, posted on YouTube in November, Ramsey railed against what he called “totalitarian” government restrictions and mask mandates, saying he wanted to “start a crusade” against them.

The Dave Ramsey Show is known for its host’s folksy financial advice balanced with a moralizing disdain for debt. One of the show’s highlights is a listener’s call featuring a “debt-free scream” to mark their liberation from consumer debt using Ramsey’s methods.

Since March, Ramsey Solutions has had about 100 cases of COVID-19 among its employees, according to a recording of a mid-November staff call obtained by Religion News Service.

Among that number were about 50 cases in mid-November, Ramsey Solutions Executive Director of Human Resources Armando Lopez told staff on the Nov. 13 call.

“There are 50 people that are somewhere in the neighborhood who are either positive or returning to work,” Lopez said.

Ramsey Solutions did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Lopez or other leaders.

During the November call, Lopez acknowledged the entire country — including suburban Williamson County, where Ramsey Solutions is located — was seeing spiking COVID-19 numbers. “Williamson County has seen a huge increase in COVID cases. And so have we. Ramsey Solutions has seen a huge spike,” said Lopez.

The human resources director also said he feared the numbers were higher, admitting the company lacked an accurate system for tracking COVID-19 cases.

Despite the number of positive cases, Lopez told staff in November there were no plans to allow remote working. The company allowed staff to work from home during the initial weeks of the pandemic but has required them to return to company headquarters since May.

Lopez said Ramsey Solutions leadership had decided it was not “a work from home employer.”

Can we be a work from home employer for a short period of time?” he said on the Nov. 13 call. “We have proven for five weeks it works. Can we? Yes. Are we? No.”

Armando Lopez, Executive Director of Human Resources at Ramsey Solutions. Video screengrab via EntreLeadership

That message was repeated in a company newsletter sent on Nov. 20, which reported 32 positive cases among staff and another 17 staff awaiting tests. The newsletter encouraged staff to report any COVID-19 test results to human resources but maintained that the company would continue operating out of headquarters.

“We know that many of you have felt pressure from family and friends, some of whom think you are ‘weird’ for still going in to work,” said the newsletter.

“Fortunately we work in a place that is used to being called weird,” the newsletter continued, then highlighted Ramsey Solutions’ “countercultural approach to business.”

“And now we are weird for following common sense and using logic in providing for our families and our customers,” according to the newsletter.


RELATED: How Eric Metaxas went from Trump despiser to true believer


During the mid-November call with staff, Lopez said company leaders were not able to keep up with requests for exemptions to work from home, and employees were the best people to judge what is the right thing to do for their health. Some might decide they need to choose to quit their jobs, he said.

We know we are going to lose some people through this,” he said. “It is harsh and hard for me to say this.”

The company has advised workers to social distance if possible and to stay home if they feel sick. In staff newsletters, the company has encouraged testing for COVID-19 but has also shared articles claiming the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated by the media.

We are all adults here,” Luke Lefevre, a creative director at Ramsey, told employees in the Nov. 20 newsletter. “If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. Give yourself healthy space from others. Use the stairs if you can. Don’t be careless.”

The company has also continued to hold large events during the pandemic, including its “EntreLeadership Summit” in July. That event was scheduled to be held at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando, but Ramsey moved the event to its Franklin offices after the Gaylord informed the company of significant COVID-19 restrictions, including mask checks, according to a lawsuit filed by Ramsey Solutions.

The summit was one of a series of “high-end experiences” put on by Ramsey, attracting thousands of business owners and other attendees, “each of whom spends between $5,000 and $15,000 to attend, inclusive of hotel,” according to the amended complaint in the suit.

The COVID-19 restrictions at the hotel, which included no buffets or other self-service food along with limited use of the pool or other amenities, made having the conference there untenable, Ramsey Solutions stated in the complaint.

In court documents, Ramsey Solutions claimed the change of venue cost the company $10 million in lost revenue.  

During a July staff meeting after the summit, Ramsey accused the hotel’s leadership of breaking their word to him and the company. The mask requirement in particular irked Ramsey. He ridiculed the idea that hotel staff would enforce a mask requirement on guests.

“As you guys are well aware we don’t require masks but if someone wants to wear a mask we don’t mind,” according to a recording of the meeting obtained by RNS. “Everybody gets to choose what you want to do. This is America — a voluntary thing, you choose what you want to do. But we’re not going to have someone pay $10,000 for a ticket to have some $8 an hour twerp at Marriott giving them a hard time about wearing a mask.”

At a staff meeting after Thanksgiving, Ramsey continued his criticism of those who are ruled by “fear” of COVID-19 and are “freaking out” due to the pandemic.

“They have got fear, they have trepidation on the COVID, they are scared to death about whether or not they are meeting all the social cues on fear and masks and temperature controls,” he said on a recording of the meeting obtained by RNS.

By contrast, he said, staff at Ramsey Solutions would spread Christmas cheer and joy during the holidays — as well as courage, which he said was contagious.

The company, Ramsey said, would not be ruled by fear.

“Fear is not a fruit of the spirit,” he told his employees in the meeting, while rallying them to step up their performance during the holiday season. “It is not on the list. And so, while sometimes I am afraid, I do not make decisions — and I do not let my behaviors be — dictated by fear unless it involves getting out of the way of a car that is coming toward me.”

 

What Trump’s refusal to wear a mask says about masculinity in America

From the president to stay-at-home protesters, a mask-less face has become a stand-in for manliness.

When reporter BrieAnna Frank showed up to a Honeywell plant last week in Arizona to cover President Donald Trump’s visit, she was sure to wear a mask.

Masks were the reason the president was there: The former aerospace plant in Phoenix has pivoted to producing them in recent months amid a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

But the dozen or so people who had gathered outside the facility to cheer on the president were not there to support masks. They had their faces uncovered, Frank told Vox.

As she approached members of the crowd to interview them, the conversation quickly got heated. “They started to yell that me and the other journalists there were trying to incite fear and panic and paranoia” by wearing masks, said Frank, who works for the Arizona Republic.

One man in particular seemed to take issue with the male journalists wearing masks, she recalled. “It’s submission, it’s muzzling yourself, it looks weak,” he said, “especially for men.”

“I felt that it was a statement that people should know about,” said Frank, whose tweets about the encounter went viral. To the crowd in front of the factory, she said, “Masks clearly symbolized something beyond, ‘I am trying to protect my health.’”

They’re not alone. Trump himself declined to wear a mask while being photographed at the plant, though he claims he wore one “backstage.” Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for failing to wear a mask during a tour of the Mayo Clinic in April. And when armed protesters showed up at the Michigan statehouse on April 30 to protest stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, many were mask-free. One shouting, bare-faced man who was photographed at the rally later said he was “not at all” worried about the virus and would never wear a mask — “ever.”

Since the pandemic began, the issue of wearing masks has further exposed America’s racial and gender prejudices. Earlier on, wearing masks was associated with Asian countries and often dismissed because of racist assumptions about those countries. Then, as many cities began to require residents to wear masks, police began targeting black men for covering their faces, profiling them as criminals rather than as people trying to abide by health guidelines. And for a certain subset of mostly white, conservative men, not wearing a mask seems to have become a hallmark of manliness.

For unmasked protesters like the ones in Michigan, “There’s an assumption of a kind of invincibility that is tied to this idea of white masculinity,” Jonathan Metzl, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and the author of Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland, told Vox.

It’s not just men — Frank noticed many women among the unmasked Trump supporters gathered at the Honeywell plant. And, of course, many men are happy to follow the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cover their faces in public. Still, a narrative has emerged on the right that wearing a mask is weak and refusing to wear one is somehow strong. And that narrative could put everyone at risk.

One thing about [being] macho is being fearless,” Melanye Price, a political science professor at Prairie View A&M University, told Vox. “But that fearlessness comes at a cost for every single person around you.”

The CDC recommends masks. Not everyone is listening.

Long before the pandemic hit, masks were common in East Asian countries, where they’re seen as a simple way to protect yourself (and others) from disease, as Refinery29’s Connie Wang wrote in March. Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began, started requiring them in January. The US was much slower to recommend masks for the general public, but in early April — with confirmed coronavirus cases jumping by the day — the CDC recommended that everyone wear a cloth mask in certain public settings. Some cities, like New York and Los Angeles, began mandating the wearing of masks in certain settings as well.

Like much about the coronavirus, the impact of wearing masks on transmission isn’t entirely clear. But many experts believe that even cloth masks can offer some degree of protection for wearers — and perhaps greater protection for the people around them. The virus seems to spread “when germ-containing droplets make it into a person’s mouth, nose, or eyes,” as Vox’s German Lopez previously reported, and it’s true that “masks stop people from spreading their own droplets.” If everyone wears a mask — including those who are asymptomatic but may still be carrying the virus — it could help halt the spread of Covid-19.

Most Americans appear to be on board with the CDC’s recommendation. In a Morning Consult poll (conducted from April 7 to 9), 72 percent of respondents said they planned to start wearing a face mask in public places over the next two weeks.

Others, however, have chafed at the CDC’s advice. As people around the country protest their state’s shelter-in-place orders, many have appeared in public without masks. One example is the protesters in Michigan, which has become a hotbed of resistance to social distancing restrictions — a defiance Trump has encouraged via his tweets about “liberating” Michigan and other states. And on April 30, hundreds of protesters gathered at the state capitol in Lansing, some of them armed and many of them eschewing masks and standing close together in violation of social distancing guidelines, according to Reuters.

One of the mask-less protesters was Brian Cash, who was photographed shouting during the event. He later told the Detroit Free Press he believes the coronavirus was “intentionally released” by the Chinese government and that the state’s stay-at-home order is useless because people still go to grocery stores and pharmacies. “So what is the point of staying at home?” he asked.

The resistance to masks has also found support within the Trump administration. Pence, the head of the federal government’s coronavirus response, said he did not wear a mask while touring the Mayo Clinic in April because he is tested for Covid-19 regularly. (He later backpedaled and said he “should have” worn one.) But a mask-less Pence attended two events in Iowa on May 8, the same day his press secretary tested positive for the virusaccording to the Intercept. At one of those events, CEOs were reportedly asked to remove their masks before joining Pence onstage.

Trump, meanwhile, has consistently appeared in public without a mask. After he was photographed without one at the Honeywell plant in Arizona, he said he had worn one “backstage,” outside the view of cameras.

“But they said you didn’t need it, so, I didn’t need it,” he went on. “And by the way, if you noticed, nobody else had it on that was in the group.”

Aides tested positive for the virus days later, and staffers have since been asked to wear masks on White House grounds, according to the Washington Post. Trump, however, is still unlikely to wear a mask himself, aides say.

For Trump, not wearing a mask may be a way to project masculinity

The Trump administration’s behavior around masks has gendered overtones. For Trump and Pence, not wearing a mask may be a way to project a macho image, Metzl said, playing into “tropes of indestructibility.”

Appearing to play it safe contradicts a core principle of masculinity: show no weakness,” wrote social sciences professor Peter Glick at Scientific American. “Defying experts’ warnings about personal danger signals ‘I’m a tough guy, bring it on.’”

Trump’s messaging has also helped promote the idea that ignoring the risks of coronavirus is the tough or strong thing to do. Despite warnings from public health experts about the dangers of reopening the country too early, he said at the Honeywell plant that “the people of our country should think of themselves as warriorsbecause “our country has to open.”

Trump’s militaristic, tough-guy messaging around wearing face masks may be encouraging people to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus.
 Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Such militaristic, tough-guy messaging, along with Trump’s refusal to wear a mask, may encourage ordinary people — especially men — to minimize the risk of coronavirus for the sake of appearing manly.

While the refusal to wear masks isn’t an exclusively male phenomenon — a Michigan woman was arrested last month after police said she attacked a grocery store employee who told her to leave because she wasn’t wearing a mask — there is some evidence that men may view mask recommendations with more skepticism than women. In the April Morning Consult poll, 76 percent of women said they planned to wear a face mask in public over the next two weeks, compared with 67 percent of men.

Though Trump’s narrative around the virus may be reinforcing gender stereotypes, the issue of masks is revealing Americans’ racial biases as well. While white men have been able to appear in public without masks — and with guns — as part of a protest, black men have been targeted by police, both for wearing and for not wearing masks. In Philadelphia, officers were caught on video forcibly removing a black man from a bus for not covering his face, just one day after the city began requiring it, Fabiola Cineas reported for Vox in April. And a police officer in Miami handcuffed and arrested Armen Henderson, a black doctor who tests homeless people for Covid-19, as he loaded equipment into a van in front of his home — while wearing a mask.

Black Americans often have to engage in “social signaling” to make white people feel comfortable in public spaces, said Price, the political science professor. “You say good morning first, you smile first,” she said. “None of that can be done with masks.”

White people often already perceive black people as dangerous or not belonging in public places, Price said. “But a black body with a mask is something that somehow expresses even more danger.”

Meanwhile, for white protesters like those in Michigan, not wearing a mask may signal a kind of immunity from danger — or at least a perceived immunity. As white Americans, they’re unlikely to encounter the same kind of police brutality that black people face when they engage in protest. “Imagine 10 black men and rifles walking up to any state capitol in the United States,” Price said. “They would be shot before they ever made it up the steps.”

But congregating in crowds without masks is also a statement of perceived immunity from the virus, Metzl said. The unmasked protesters seemed to be sending the message that “nothing’s going to happen to me because of my whiteness,” he explained. “If you thought you were really going to get the coronavirus, you wouldn’t act like that.”

The fact that black and Latinx Americans in many communities are disproportionately likely to become infected and die of Covid-19 may be influencing such attitudes. “I think for a lot of the country, people feel like this is something that’s happening to someone else,” Metzl said.

But people who refuse to wear masks may be putting others, not just themselves, at risk

Obviously, the feeling of invincibility that leads protesters to avoid masks could backfire if they get sick. Pence and Trump may also find themselves rethinking their stance in the coming days since White House officials tested positive — Pence himself is reportedly keeping his distance from Trump and other staffers to avoid potentially exposing them.

But the especially disturbing thing about refusing to wear a mask is that, while it may seem like an expression of toughness, it actually increases the risk to others more than yourself, Metzl said. While some may feel that not wearing a mask expresses their own invincibility, “You could also think about this in terms of all the other people you’re putting at risk by not wearing a mask,” he added — your family, friends, colleagues, the rest of society. The failure to wear one is “symbolic of a kind of loss of a bigger common sense of responsibility to each other.”

People protest Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order outside the capitol building in Olympia, Washington, on May 9, 2020.
 Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

Remedying that loss is not going to be as simple as sending the message that “tough guys wear masks,” Metzl said. (Washington Post humor columnist Alexandra Petri has suggested a tagline for a potential “Masks For Him” line of accessories: “We put the ‘mask’ in ‘toxic maskulinity.’”) Rather, the country has to look at what the current mask debate says about racism and other prejudices. “What we need is a much more concerted effort to address the bigger issues that are represented by masks,” Metzl said.

For the Arizona Republic’s Frank, the confrontation over masks outside the Honeywell plant is part of a wider narrative around the virus. She recalled another incident in which a female reporter was accosted, this time by a woman, for wearing a mask. “I do think that what happened to all of us out there in the field on Tuesday is indicative of a larger issue” with how masks are viewed in the US, Frank said.

But for her, wearing a mask is about one thing: public health. Frank lives with her mother, a nurse who treats Covid-19 patients. “I try to be really careful,” she told the people gathered outside the plant. “I try to protect myself and those around me.”

Jerry Falwell Jr.’s coronavirus response shows his staggering level of ignorance

After learning of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s decision to partially reopen Liberty University, my thoughts turned to the biblical account of Balaam’s ass.

According to the Hebrew scriptures, the children of Israel were on the verge of engulfing another Bronze Age tribe. Lacking recourse to the United Nations, the Moabites turned to a diviner named Balaam to curse the Israelis. But on the way to the cursing, Balaam’s conveyance, an ass, saw an angel blocking the path ahead, turned hard into a wall and crushed Balaam’s foot. Unable to see the celestial creature himself, a frustrated Balaam beat his ass. But God permitted the wounded animal to speak, mock her rider and explain the divine roadblock. The eyes of a chastened Balaam were finally opened and he took the Israeli side. And the rest is Middle East history.

Students at Liberty University are more likely than most to understand the specialness of this biblical lesson. It is one of the few stories in which Falwell should not be assigned the part of an ass. For that matter, he does not even deserve the role of Balaam, who at least was open to instruction. Instead, Falwell has charged the angel straight on and — in defiance of nearly all public health experts — reopened the Liberty dorms in the middle of a pandemic. Now, according to the New York Times, at least one student has tested positive and several more have shown coronavirus-like symptoms.

Falwell played down the risk to students who might get the disease. “Ninety-nine percent of them are not at the age to be at risk,” he argued last week, “and they don’t have conditions that put them at risk.”

But this public response indicates the staggering level of ignorance that informs Falwell’s leadership. It is possible for students with mild or unnoticeable symptoms to spread the disease. And once cases are discovered, it is generally too late to take preventive action. Yes, the fatality rate of infected college students is likely to be low. Yet places with broad community spread are more likely to see infection of the elderly and vulnerable, who are more likely to fill premature graves. Since when has Liberty University embraced the teaching of Social Darwinism in Ethics 101?

What can’t be disputed is the constant churn of mixed messages that Falwell has contributed to our national debate. His stated intention has been to concentrate Liberty’s student population: “I think we, in a way, are protecting the students by having them on campus together.”

It can’t be disputed that Falwell personally welcomed hundreds of students back to campus after Spring Break. “They were talking about being glad to be back,” he recalled. “I was joking how they pretty much had the whole place to themselves, and I told them to enjoy it.”

It can’t be disputed that Falwell has called the national pandemic response an “overreaction” with political motivations. “Impeachment didn’t work,” he claimed, “and the Mueller report didn’t work and Article 25 didn’t work, and so maybe now this is their next attempt to get Trump.”

It can’t be disputed that Falwell went on Fox News and speculated that the coronavirus might have been the work of the North Korean military.

It can’t be disputed that Falwell called one critic a “dummy,” even though he is the parent of Liberty students. Or that Falwell has dismissed a critical professor named Marybeth Davis Baggett as “the ‘Baggett’ lady.’ ”

There is an old Bob Dylan song titled, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Who is Falwell serving instead of students, parents, staff, his board and the Lynchburg, Va., community? Let’s see.

  • Falwell has contempt for the weak. He is
  • dismissive of experts. H
  • traffics in conspiracy theories. He
  • attacks his critics with infantile putdowns and demeaning names. And he
  • refuses to admit when he is dangerously wrong.

Who does that sound like? It is on the tip of my tongue.

In this case Falwell has gone even further than the president, who is occasionally forced, under duress, to say sane things about the virus. Falwell seems to want credit from President Trump for drinking the most distilled, concentrated, rotgut form of the Kool-Aid.

He blunders toward blasphemy by insisting that he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs. “We’re conservative,” he claims, “we’re Christian, and therefore we’re being attacked.” But any path that ignores the truth and endangers the vulnerable can’t be called the way of Christ. No, there is only one explanation: Falwell has laid down the cross to follow Trump.