Why are Americans so divided and angry about facemasks?

Why are Americans so divided and angry about facemasks3
Trump finally wore one publicly in July. Source: Getty Images
5 Min Read

Daily US Times: In the midst of the pandemic, a small piece of cloth has incited a nationwide feud ‍and controversy about public health, personal freedom and civil liberties. Some Americans refuse to wear facemasks out of principle. Others are enraged by the way that people flout the mask mandates.

Bob Palmgren has a restaurant named RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack in Mission, Kansas. He tried to be polite at first and asked a customer to wear a mask inside his restaurant. The customer was a man in his forties who was wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap, had flashed a gun and said that he was exempt from a state-wide mask requirement. He said that he could explain the exemption in the law to Mr Palmgren.

Mr Palmgren is a former marine and told the customer that he was not interested in continuing the conversation and he was not swayed by the customer’s gun, either.

Mr Palmgren said: “Coronavirus doesn’t care if you have a gun or not,” describing his conversation with the customer. “I said: ‘Now get the hell out of here.'”

Some Trump supporters have been vocal in criticising facemasks but not all agree. Source: Getty Images

The argument in the restaurant reflected a deep divide over requirements to wear facemasks in the US. People in Kansas are now required to wear masks in public as part of an ongoing effort to contain the spread of coronavirus. Not only Kansas, those who live in more than half of the country, also have to follow the same. But some people have been fighting against the decision.

According to a poll conducted by researchers at the Pew Research Center, the wearing of masks has become a catalyst for political conflict, an arena where scientific evidence is often viewed through a partisan lens. President Trump publicly denied wearing mark until he wore one last wee. But most Democrats support the wearing of masks, while most Republicans do not.

The Republicans are following the lead of the president: Trump has been reluctant to wear a mask, saying that it did not seem right to wear one while he was receiving heads of state at the White House. He put a mask on in public for the first time during a visit to a military hospital earlier this month.

Bob Palmgren, the owner of RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack, tells a customer to put on a mask. Source: Getty Images

During the final weeks of the campaign season, the battle over masks has escalated. The general election is in November, and activists in both parties, Democrat and Republican, are working feverishly to ensure victory at the polls. Some of them have faced off on the issue of masks: as a public-health professor at Morgan State University, Timothy Akers, says: “We’re seeing politics and science literally crashing.”

The dispute over wearing face masks embodies the political dynamics of the campaign. It also reflects a classic American struggle between those who believe just as deeply in personal liberty and those who defend public safety.

The conflict over masks is tense, deeply personal and volatile. Mr Palmgren, the restaurant owner mentioned earlier in this article, was trying to follow the state mandate when he got into the argument with the gun-toting customer.

Across the country, other stories about the masks have unfolded. When workers in a Michigan pizzeria told a customer that she had to wear a mask, according to local authorities, she made an obscene gesture, kicked someone in the restaurant and fled the police.

According to authorities, a fight over masks led to gunfire outside a Los Angeles grocery store and a rapper named Jerry Lewis was killed.

The fight over facemasks is playing out against a backdrop of a health crisis that has reached historic levels and more than 3,544,000 people in the US have tested positive for the virus and at least 137,000 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.

The advice from health experts is clear – masks work. Getty Images

The divide between those who wear facemasks and who don’t, known as anti-maskers, has become increasingly sharp.

In interviews in the Midwest and across the US, people dug in their heels and defended their position, whether for or against the wearing of masks. Many of those interviewed sounded deeply mistrustful of people on the other side and blamed them for the nation’s public-health and economic crises.

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