For some in the anti-mask crowd, this is less about principle than partisan politics, a symptom of what my colleague Damon Linker has described as the decision of some on the right “to allow the culture war to swallow everything else in our public life.” As the left generally considers COVID-19 a serious threat to public health, that adversarial mindset dictates downplaying it. This seems a plausible explanation of Vice President Mike Pence’s now-recanted decision not to wear a mask while visiting the Mayo Clinic. Pence’s initial rationale — that he wanted to be able to make eye contact while thanking health-care workers — is certainly flimsy, and the vice president has a history of staged political performance.
Then there are the cultural reasons, often reflexive and inchoate. An Arizona journalist reports being told masks look “weak — especially for men.” An Ohio lawmaker refused to wear a mask on the grounds that “we are all created in the image and likeness of God” — a basic, uncontroversial Jewish and Christian doctrine — and this “image is seen the most by our face” — an odd, extrabiblical understanding of the Imago Dei. His comment may be generously read as an inarticulate variation of the argument of National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty that masks “will always feel like an imposition” in the West, where our culture has “inherited the view that God meets us face to face, because a face is where our personhood is incarnate in the world.”
I don’t have much patience for petty partisanship or selfish machismo.