Before we begin, let’s get things clear: I’m a mask guy.
I mention this not because I want people to follow my example — like every other American, you should be free to weigh the evidence and make your own choice — but instead to head off the errant email or Twitter comment accusing me of being the kind of person who goes into a Stop & Shop and starts screeching at anyone with a facial covering, liberally using the word “sheeple” in my rant. My general feeling is that it’s more likely than not masks work at some level.
Thus, I’m confident I’m not coming from a place of anti-masking when I note Joe Biden’s messaging on facial coverings, which was already being served with a soupçon of dystopia, has now gone full-on totalitarian propaganda.
The transformation has been a steady one. Take this tweet from the campaign, which sounds suspiciously like it could be lifted from a wartime propaganda poster:
Be a patriot. Protect your fellow citizens. Wear a mask.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 18, 2020
That apparently didn’t work, since some Americans persisted in not doing what they were told. Well, now things have changed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new masking guidelines in the wake of increased COVID-19 vaccination and the president is taking a much lighter tone about all of this.
Actually, only two of these things are true, and they’re the first two:
The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.
The choice is yours.
— President Biden (@POTUS) May 13, 2021
“The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do,” Biden tweeted Thursday.
“The choice is yours.”
Never mind there’s no actual rule because there can’t be one. What he’s talking about, for the confused, is interim CDC guidance issued Thursday for vaccinated individuals.
UPDATE: If you are fully vaccinated against #COVID19, you can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, incl. local business and workplace guidance. More: https://t.co/FJMon7WlFO
— CDC (@CDCgov) May 13, 2021
According to the guidance, fully vaccinated individuals can “[r]esume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance, [r]esume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel, [r]efrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States” and other things anyone could have told you months ago.
“We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a Thursday afternoon media briefing, according to NBC News.
“Based on the continuing downward trajectory of cases, the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines and our understanding of how the virus spreads,” she added, “that moment has come for those who are fully vaccinated.”
This was such great news that our president took to Twitter and … threatened the rest of us into getting the vaccine or wearing a mask, citing a non-existent rule.
The best guess in this scenario is that Biden is trying to apply the carrot-and-stick model to vaccine hesitancy, leaning heavily on the stick. While the number of people who refuse to get the jab has been falling, according to a March Pew Research Center poll, polling still finds between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 Americans say they won’t get inoculated.
While no one should be forced to get a vaccine, of course, hesitancy remains a major issue, particularly when it comes to fighting variants. So what’s the best way to fight it? I’m not a public health expert, but I’m going to gamble it’s not having the president tacitly threaten vaccine holdouts with a quasi-autocratic tweet.
As you can imagine, plaudits weren’t forthcoming:
A requirement to do one or the other of two things demanded by another person, against your will, is not called a choice; it’s called coercion, and we reject it in a free society. https://t.co/vvaN3w6tg9
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 14, 2021
This is not, in fact, a rule https://t.co/c3MyW2nQaf
— Emily Zanotti (@emzanotti) May 14, 2021
Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants. https://t.co/rUsHdi8UJq
— Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS (@RepGosar) May 14, 2021
Hey #POTUS – the rule is simple. Kindly, screw off. You will find the rules in a little read document called ‘the constitution’. The sequel is even better. You can find it on line under ‘The Bill of Rights’. You and your authoritarian pals will find it a quick read. https://t.co/ENuNLQkHlU
— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) May 14, 2021
We’ve heard of laws, even rule of law, but just “rules”? No. https://t.co/boaJxe0H4k
— The Hope Of Audacity (@GHBrady_28) May 14, 2021
We have replaced “mean” tweets with nakedly authoritarian ones. This is fine. https://t.co/PTJIrvuuOF
— James Lindsay, legendarily bad interlocutor (@ConceptualJames) May 14, 2021
And there’s the rub. Remember the corrosive influence of mean tweets coming from the White House? Remember how our last president’s nasty missives about the hosts of “Morning Joe” were going to be the ruin of us? This isn’t to defend former President Trump’s social media usage, but the subtext of Biden’s tweet is unmistakable: Do this or else. Or else what? Don’t worry, but daddy will think up some punishment!
It’s not just the tone the president took; this tweet will do real harm. Authoritarianism without authority breeds both contempt and rebellion: Oh, you want me to take the vaccine or keep wearing the mask? Well, I’ll show you!
In an attempt to level with those hesitant to take the shot or wear a mask, the president accomplished precisely the opposite of what one guesses he aimed to do, all in 280 characters or less. Few tin-eared tough-guy social media posts in recent memory have been this counterproductive. No one needs Joe Biden’s permission to do anything, least of all conduct their lives as they see fit with or without the vaccine.
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