The great face mask conflict has been raging for nearly two years. While it shows some signs of weakening, it remains one of the most intense points of division in America.
With all the points of controversy in modern society, it seems incredulous that a thin piece of cloth worn over a portion of one’s face has risen to the level of conflict that it has.
Battles ensue daily over mask mandates at schools. Verbal and physical assaults are waged against those who are mask-less. Court cases are filed over government mask mandates. People are judged and categorized according to their mask attitudes. It is the great mask war in American society.
This great war, however, is not about health or community. It is generally considered that liberals like the mask and conservatives do not.
But this generalization is not accurate. Conservatives care deeply about the family, the health of the family, the community, the health of the community, and the individual’s responsibility to that community. Indeed, a common accusation by the Left is that conservatives care too much about community and public order, and not enough about individual rights.
Many conservatives, including this author, wear a face mask as a sign of concern for the community. On the other hand, how many times do we see photos and images of prominent Democrats going mask-less at parties, restaurants and large social gatherings. So the point of conflict is not the mask, which then leaves the mandate as the cause of all the division.
Perhaps this great conflict has been brewing for a long time. Perhaps it has been brewing since the 1960s, when the Left set out to impose massive regulations on every aspect of economic activity.
Perhaps it has been brewing since the 1990s, when the IRS became more intrusive and aggressive toward individual taxpayers. Perhaps it has been brewing since Obamacare imposed sweeping government control over individual healthcare. Or perhaps it has been brewing since the Left has become totalitarian in the imposition of its political correctness agenda.
The Left has shown no inclination to tolerate dissent from its mandates. In the exact opposite of the tolerance it preaches, the Left reacts with harsh vindictiveness against anyone or any group that opposes the Left’s dictates.
Remember the reaction of Democrats to the emergence of the Tea Party in 2010. As a response to the unprecedented expansion of federal power under the Obama administration, the Tea Party sought to revive those basic principles of the U.S. Constitution: federalism, limited government, and separation of powers. These principles form the structural foundation of our constitutional democracy.
And yet, remember the condemning and ridiculing manner in which Democrats depicted the Tea Party. They were called simpletons, Neanderthals, hate-mongers and, naturally, racists. And yet, all they wanted was to defend constitutional democracy against massive federal encroachments. But they were ridiculed for their outdated, naïve and overly simplified view of the Constitution and government authority.
Well, perhaps the mask mandate conflict has arisen because people are tired of liberal elites lecturing to them about constitutional theories and modern government structures. Maybe the mask war has erupted because every person understands the mask. No one has to worry that they are dealing with a complicated issue beyond their intelligence or understanding.
Maybe large segments of Americans are fed up with the increasing government intrusion into their lives.
Maybe they feel fine with a mask and would gladly wear one if it would help their neighbor, but are tired of yet another federal bureaucrat giving them yet another order.
Maybe the mask war is the long-awaited rebellion against the 1960s cultural revolution in which the Left pushed government power and authority beyond all previous limits.
Maybe the mask war is a reaction against all the speech codes and cancel culture imposed by the Left.
Maybe the mask war is about the federal government’s takeover of health care – a takeover the ordinary citizen still does not completely understand.
Maybe the mask war represents the same kind of reaction that those colonists in Boston had when they dumped the tea into the harbor. The Constitution, as well as the Declaration of Independence, embodies the age-old American belief that all governments have limits to their power and authority.
Maybe the mask war is just the common person’s way of asking for a little common decency from the elites. Maybe instead of lecturing and berating people who oppose the mask mandate, liberal elites should try listening to them, affording them the dignity of being heard, and treating them as human beings worthy of respect. Then again, perhaps the elites really don’t want to know what the mask war is all about.
Patrick M. Garry is a professor of law with a Ph.D. in constitutional history at the University of South Dakota Law School. He is also senior fellow at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy.