Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Security guard Calvin Munerlyn, father of six with three step-children, was shot to death Monday in an altercation over Munerlyn’s demand that a 20-year-old woman wear a mask to shop in a Dollar Store in Flint, Michigan. She was there with her mother, who was masked, and with two men. Munerlyn was accused by the two men of disrespecting the wife of one of them. The younger woman had refused to wear a mask, and Munerlyn denied her service. He was shot in the head and killed.
The altercation had nothing to do with race or politics (all in the altercation are African-American). But this idea that the demand that we mask transcends racial and class boundaries. Many Americans are affronted (no pun intended) at the very requirement.
The tone was set by VP Mike Pence, who broke Mayo Medical Center rules when he visited and was the only one not wearing a mask. Trump has also used his Twitter dog whistle to encourage white supremacists to defy governors on mitigation measures, so he set a tone for this angry, irrational mood.
On Sunday Ohio governor Mike DeWine admitted that he had to rescind his own order that Ohioans wear masks when they go out, because he got enormous pushback from the public, who thought it a “bridge too far.”
On Friday, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the city council allowed restaurants to open but ordered customers to wear face masks. Within three hours, Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle admitted, the order had to be amended to merely counsel the public to mask up. said in a statement. J. Brady McCollough at the LA Times reported that McNickle said, “Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view.”
Local news reported that when Walmart tried to enforce the mask rule, some customers became abusive, threatening and almost violent. The police themselves received death threats from people saying they would use their fire arms to resist being made to mask.
In the little island community of Petersburg Borough, Alaska, the city council decided not to renew its masking ordinance because it was setting neighbor against neighbor and causing friction among the 3,000 or so residents, with a faction arguing that it detracted from their rights.
I’m not sure what the root is of this feeling that it is unfair or unconstitutional to ask people to wear masks.
That government should make laws about clothing and comportment was a principle of early modern governance. It is illegal in most jurisdictions to walk around naked, and we don’t see unclothed men with guns insisting on their liberty to be nude.
Puritan Massachusetts tried to ban ostentation such as the wearing of gold and silver.
Montesquieu even argued that sumptuary laws, made by the government to forbid some people to dress up ostentatiously, were essential to democratic republics.
Paul A. Rahe writes,
- “If, according to Montesquieu, republics – especially, democratic republics – require sumptuary laws (1.7.1-2), it is because the passion that set in motion polities such as classical Sparta and early Republican Rome was a species of virtue grounded in a “love of the laws & the fatherland,” which demanded “a continual preference for the public interest over one’s own.” This in turn required an emphasis on equality, which Montesquieu describes as “the soul” of the democratic state. “In a democracy,” he explains, “the love of equality restricts ambition to a single desire, to the sole happiness of rendering to the fatherland greater services than the other citizens.” To produce this love, to so restrict the scope of ambition, and to inspire in the citizens of a republic the requisite spirit of self-renunciation, one must deploy “the complete power of education” and instill in the citizens a “love of frugality that restricts the desire to possess” to what a family actually needs (1.4.5, 5.3-7). Sumptuary laws are needed to reinforce this propensity, for “to people who are allowed nothing but what is necessary, there is nothing left to desire but the glory of the fatherland and the glory that is their own” (1.7.2).”
Masks aren’t exactly like sumptuary laws, though I suppose they do have a leveling effect. In that case, rejecting them is a demand for hierarchy and Montesquieu would say it is monarchical (he did argue that there is no point in legislating plain clothing in a monarchy, since there is no need for grassroots solidarity in that authoritarian system). Maybe our march toward plutocracy is further advanced than we had realized.
Even Gene Simmons of “Kiss” argued with fans that they should wear masks. When he got pushback from a fan seized by the myth that masks don’t stop you from getting sick, Simmons pointed out that they are to protect other people from you. I guess the fan got the Big Tongue.
Simmons is right. Moreover, societies that practice almost universal masking during the pandemic, such as Hong Kong and South Korea, have very low numbers of cases and low death rates.
It is the same thing with shaking hands. VP Mike Pence famously said that politicians shake hands and he expected himself and Trump to continue to do so. The bodily contact of the handshake, the body language, the feeling of the “grip” of the other, all of this seems to be important to the US political class, though I expect it is mainly the men who care about it.
Human beings are disease vectors, and you really don’t want them sharing their saliva droplets or their hand microbes with you during a pandemic. Not sure why insisting on these things should be thought wrought up with our civil liberties. Is it that we have a right to sicken and die?
Meanwhile, Yahoo conveys that the New York Times reported that an internal Trump administration Centers for Disease Control report estimated that not only will deaths in the US not plateau in May, they will rise substantially, so that 3,000 a day will be dying but June.
This projection is almost certainly true, since so many states are opening prematurely and the virus will get a second wind. Social distancing reduces the rate of the transmission of the disease, which you want to be less than one if you are to tamp it down. If people don’t social distance, the rate of transmission rises above one, which means that the number of victims of the disease will begin growing. It grows exponentially.
Yahoo embedded the following from Margot Sanger-Katz at the NYT on their reporting:
— Margot Sanger-Katz (@sangerkatz) May 4, 2020
There is no other country in the world, the government of which would blithely put up with a projection like this and which would not only take no measures to stop this development but would actively encourage an end to mitigation policies.
Trump is using his bully pulpit to applaud irresponsible governors who open up their states even before the number of cases begins declining (a 14-day decline is what the CDC recommends). The US, with 4 percent of the world’s population, has over a fourth of the deaths.
This is an unmitigated catastrophe, folks.