The tweet was accompanied with the word “freedom” and two emojis: One wearing a medical mask and the other of flames.
So, let’s start by trying to suss out the message that Mandel is trying to send.
Masking — the necessity of it, generally speaking — was turned into a political issue by former President Donald Trump as the country battled the coronavirus pandemic over the past 16 months.
On the same day in the spring of 2020 that he announced the CDC guidance on mask-wearing, Trump was asked whether he would be wearing a mask. To which he responded: “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it. Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it.”
Trump spent the following year raising questions about the efficacy of masks despite clear guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that masks do indeed work to slow the spread of Covid-19.
In May 2020 on a trip to a Ford plant in Michigan, Trump said that he wore a mask away from reporters and cameras, but took it off because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
He also repeatedly mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask during the teeth of the pandemic.
“Did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him?” Trump asked a campaign rally crowd in Pennsylvania in September 2020. “And then he makes a speech, and he always has it — not always, but a lot of times — he has it hanging down. Because, you know what, it gives him a feeling of security. If I were a psychiatrist — right? I’d say, this guy’s got some big issues. Hanging down.”
Because of Trump’s focus on masks, the issue became a political one rather than the public health issue it should have always been. Among Trump backers, wearing a mask became a sign of capitulation to the overbearing federal government while refusing to wear one was a sign that you loved freedom.
This was (and is) America, after all. The government can’t tell you what to do! Every individual gets to make their own decisions!
This is (and was) a ridiculous line of thinking when it came to a pandemic. The only way to limit infections — until the development of the Covid-19 vaccine — was to stop so many people from getting it. And because many of the people who did become infected were asymptomatic, the best way to slow the spread was for everyone (sick or not) to wear a mask.
Not wearing a mask, then, wasn’t just about you and your rights. It literally endangered other people.
Anyway, the point here is that Mandel sees his path to the GOP nomination as painting himself as the Trumpiest candidate in the crowded field. And because Trumpism isn’t about a set of policy prescriptions but rather focused on tone (owning the libs, mostly), the way to demonstrate fealty to the former President is through stunts like, say, burning a mask.
What’s most depressing here — at least to me — is that Mandel’s transparent ploy will probably work. The video, posted on Tuesday night, already has more than 400,000 views. Trumpists will celebrate it — and Mandel — as heroes willing to fight against the nanny state.
Which, of course, makes no sense. Mask-wearing quite clearly saved American lives.
But that doesn’t matter. Masks are bad because Trump said they were. Which is more than enough justification for Mandel.