It would be silly to think that any issue in 2020 couldn’t be politicized, but there is now a new level beyond expert-mode of how to get voters to line up on one side of an issue or another.
On Monday, Memorial Day, former vice president Joe Biden took part in a ceremony in his adopted home state of Delaware. Biden, as is required and/or strongly encouraged in many parts of the country, wore a protective face mask due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The pictures weren’t too flattering but given Biden’s age and possible susceptibility to Covid-19, not unwarranted nor unexpected.
All was fine until Brit Hume, Fox News Senior Political Analyst, put out a tweet which seemed to mock Biden’s appearance with his mask on Monday:
This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public. Biden today. pic.twitter.com/9l1gw1ljBE
— Brit Hume (@brithume) May 25, 2020
Shortly after Hume’s tweet hit the Twitterverse, President Trump endorsed it with a retweet, and Business insider picks up the story from there:
President Donald Trump on Monday shared a tweet mocking his presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential challenger, Joe Biden, for wearing a face mask during a public appearance for Memorial Day.
Biden wore the mask when he appeared in public for the first time in more than two months to lay a wreath at a military memorial in Delaware.
His decision contrasted with Trump’s refusal to wear a mask in public, at times in defiance of local rules.
In response to the gibe, Biden’s defenders were quick to point out that Biden was acting in accordance with advice from state authorities.
The state of Delaware has urged people to “wear face coverings in public settings” to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
This, of course, set off a firestorm of debate over mask versus no mask, and whether the top elected official in the country should be doing anything to discourage the use of face coverings in public where, in many places, it’s required.
In truth, Hume hit on the very reason why the President himself has likely avoided donning a face-covering unless absolutely necessary. The first reason is likely pure ego. Trump has implied or stated that he doesn’t like masks, so he’s not going to submit to them. Trump’s personality is one to avoid being told what to do. T
he second, more obvious reason, is that face masks, no matter what color or configuration they are, simply look silly and alien in our day-to-day society.
Biden likely chose a black face mask to match his attire and add to the somberness of the ceremony. Honoring fallen soldiers is a noble tradition every Memorial Day, and the occasion calls for proper respect among dignitaries and our elected leaders. No one wears bright colors to a funeral, for example, and this is a similar type of event.
However, looking at Biden’s pictures, a color other than black, which played up his dark sunglasses, could have provided a less ominous looking optic for the former vice president.
During a visit to a Ford plant on May 21, President Trump briefly wore a face mask during a part of the visit intended to be away from media viewing:
PHOTO: President Trump wears face mask at Ford plant in Michigan pic.twitter.com/zvVEPXj5wZ
— GrantB911 (@GrantB911) May 21, 2020
Other than this photo, there have been no other public appearances where Trump has wore a mask.
Vice President Mike Pence came under fire late last month for choosing not to wear a mask while visiting a hospital:
— FRANCE 24 (@FRANCE24) April 29, 2020
As the photo shows, Pence was the only one in the room without a mask, a rather bad optic for a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force which has often given advice to the public in favor of wearing masks. Since that time, Pence has been a regular user of face masks in his public appearances where he’s in close contact with other people.
As the Business Insider story explains, Trump simply believes wearing a mask appears to make him look “unpresidential”:
But even though the White House itself introduced a rule requiring visitors and staff members to wear masks, Trump has in several briefings been the only top official not wearing one.
According to recent reports, Trump believes wearing a mask in public makes him look unpresidential and could damage his image on the campaign trail. He has argued publicly that he is tested often for the virus and is therefore confident he is not at risk of spreading it.
As a political issue, though, Trump may be out of step with a majority of the population. According to polling, which can sometimes be all over the map on the issue of masks and face coverings depending on the wording of the questions, most people think they should be worn, and most people think the President should lead the way.
Politico recently ran a story on polling that shows a majority of Republicans think Trump and Pence should both wear masks in public and while traveling to public events:
On the issue of masks, however, more than 70 percent of respondents in a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll to be published Wednesday say that when Trump and Pence travel, they should wear face coverings in public places. Concurring with that position are 82 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 58 percent of Republicans.
Only 12 percent say the president and vice president should not wear masks in public places, and 17 percent say they do not know or have no opinion.
“When it comes to President Trump and Vice President Pence, there is a rare, bipartisan consensus among voters that they should be wearing masks when in public. This issue is sure to remain center-stage as the White House deals with its own outbreak of COVID-19,” said Tyler Sinclair, vice president at Morning Consult.
Trump is usually in tune with his voting base, and he makes adjustments and/or ramps up his rhetoric to meet whatever the political news of the day is. Trump has chosen to avoid wearing a mask in public as a way to signal he believes the focus should now move toward the economy, with the health-side of the Covid-19 pandemic more largely under control in most parts of the country. It’s a gamble, as is the case with many of his gut-feeling political moves. Is he helping or hurting himself politically with a choice to avoid a face mask? Only time will tell.
On the other hand, President Trump can often change his course quickly and could decide overnight that wearing a mask suddenly makes him look more “presidential” than anything else on the planet.
Personal sacrifice versus individual liberty, on the question on Covid-19 face masks, is now a major political topic and point of contention in the public arena.