The mask isn’t to keep your grandmother safe. It’s been a year, and a large chunk of Americans have been excruciatingly clear on what they will or won’t put up with to keep nana on the topside of the lawn instead of underneath. The mask isn’t for the Greater Good of the community—how exactly would that logic even work, when pushed up against a crowd that “rolls coal” to give their neighbors the what-for and which has collected itself into a movement premised on making sure their communities get not a damn thing and like it?
Masks are selfish. Masks keep you from contracting a worldwide plague. Masks give you an immunity that you can pretend was Actually just your superior conservative genes all along. To hell with grandma—grandma is on her own. We’re in a pandemic and it’s every Biff for himself. You shouldn’t just be wearing masks, you should be hoarding masks.
If we had sold masks to the public as Tactical Face Retention Devices, we might have gotten farther. Even the briefest perusal of conservative websites shows the movement is absolutely obsessed with anything called tactical. They use tactical flashlights, eat tactical oatmeal, pop tactical testoster-boosters and stockpile tactical buckets of desiccated packaged mystery rations. Treat the mask as military-grade equipment, something previously only available to our men in camouflage, and they would have flown off the shelves.
This one here is what Norman Schwarzkopf wore when handing Saddam his behind in Kuwait. That one? Not sure if you can handle that one, champ, that one’s got tactical-grade snaps instead of simple fabric loops. That one’s for the real patriots.
How many lives would we have saved if someone, at some point, had thought to offer masks with laser sights. What would the laser sights do? It’s not important. Not a damn thing, probably. But there’s nothing in Trumpian America that doesn’t have a laser sight attached. The guns, the flashlights, the dogs—everything. Driving through Texas at night must look like a damn rave. The point is if you offered a mask with attached laser sights every coal-rolling, tiki-torch jackass in Fox News America, they would swarm the sporting goods stores to grab five before their neighbor could.
A mask isn’t a personal protection device. Personal protection is for babies! A mask is a weapon. In a global pandemic that may or may not have been initiated in a secret commie lab (we ain’t saying), a mask is what separates those who live from those who die. The mask means I will live, and when I live and you die because my mask is better than yours and has tactical laser sights, I’ll be the one taking your restaurant-sized barbecue grill, Ted.
The weak will die. The masked will inherit their stuff.
Is it too late? It doesn’t seem we’ll be getting do-overs on this one. It’s possible some new tactical mask corporation could simply pay Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity cash money to crookedly gush over their product the way Fox News heads so often end up gushing about the value of buying sliver or knocking back some new protein shake, but the weird militia crowd has already so staked their identity to “untold mountains of tactical clothing that bear no apparent relationship to the actual dangers presented by this Denny’s, but not on my nose-holes” that the walk-back would be just too humiliating.
But it’s infuriating to think that as many as 500,000 American lives depended on us finding a way to convince America’s most selfish and thickheaded people to do a perfectly selfish thing, and we couldn’t muster it. There is probably a lesson here for climate change, too. Nobody seems to give a flying damn if Florida sinks under a pissed-off Atlantic, but they’d probably care if you invented a way for communist-hunting patriots to somehow shoot the carbon back out of the air. Give them something with laser sights and have them go at it. Nobody gives a damn about their family or community or any of that nonsense: They want to shoot things and be better at it than you are. Maybe if we weaponized those impulses and directed them at anything other than blowhard-premised fascism, we could get somewhere.