A short note on face masks [UPDATED]

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I watched Mike Pence’s joint appearance today with TX Gov. Greg Abbott, and wanted to point out the latest, harmful and obfuscating dodge when it comes to wearing face masks.  There are many other examples of this with Pence, but I will use this latest appearance as the example.  Multiple times Pence said as to wearing face masks:

“Wear a mask where indicated or wherever you are not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.”

[and]

“We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas and where you can’t maintain social distancing.

[and]

“Encouraging everyone in Texas to wear a mask.  We encourage wherever it is indicated by local authorities or where anyone can’t engage in social distancing.

You see? — Wearing a face mask is an alternative to social distancing or applicable only when one cannot social distance.  

As someone from the NYC area, let me call out the utter bullshit of this “if you cannot social distance”  dodge.  You are supposed to both socially distance and wear a mask.  These are not alternatives or either/or options.  Any thinking, responsible person does both.  I — and millions of other NY’ers — go out every day and try to stay 6 feet apart and all the while, at the same time wear a mask.

In other words — just go on record that people must wear masks.  Don’t hem and haw, don’t equivocate, and don't introduce this new concept that it is an alternative — rather than a compliment — to social distancing. 

FFS, this is not hard.

* * * * *



UPDATE:  Just after I published this, I immediately heard the MSNBC anchors reporting that Pence had “broken with” Trump and was now recommending that folks wear face masks.  No — as I noted above — he really hasn’t said that.  And I subsequently noticed other outlets picking up this theme.  For example, TPM’s top story is headlined:  “Pence Shifts From Trump:  “Wearing a Mask Is Just A Good Idea.”

All of this is really noteworthy too.  Initially, and it is not limited to this example, we have too comfortably wandered into an “Alice In Wonderland” world — where the Trump people say one thing to their base, and the press grabs on to intentional ambiguity to pretend that the Trump people have said something different.  So, here the press will pretend that Pence “broke with” Trump and announced a new position on face masks . . . but the Trump people will say ”No, we carefully stated caveats that keep our position the same,” such as only when local governments mandate face masks or folks are (to their mind) not socially distancing.  

One could reasonably think — F’ It.  Grab their deliberate ambiguity and just forcibly recast their statements in the public dialogue.  Here is why that doesn't work:

  1.  Trump and Republicans win because we have turned the public debate into a game.  We can pretend that Republicans said X, but they can still say “No, we said Y.”  That debased public discussion plays into their hands. Indeed, we begin trafficking in all their contradictions and Orwell speak.  Want an example?  The very TPM article referenced above also includes this from HHS Azar:

HHS Secretary Alex Azar also dodged when grilled on whether the President is undercutting the message of his own health officials that masks should be worn in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“I am the President’s health secretary and I am telling people just what President Trump has said from day one in the reopening guidelines,” Azar said. “Social distance, wear facial covering where you can’t practice social distancing, engage in appropriate personal hygiene.”

SO — in the exact same article and with Pence and Azar saying the exact same thing — Pence is characterized as “shifting” from Trump and Azar is quoting as repeating Trump’s position (from day one).  That is utterly incoherent and it does Trump’s work for him.

  1.      In order to reconcile their own incoherent reporting, within a day the press will actually adopt the Trump administration’s wrong and harmful position that you should only wear a face mask “when you can’t socially distance.”  Boom. Trump’s rhetorical dodge is complete.