Saturday, March 06, 2021

Masks and Personal Freedom

This week Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced the state's mask mandate will end March 10, saying citizens "no longer need government running our lives." Yet, in a subsequent interview with KTRK TV in Houston, he said, "We are still urging people to continue to wear the mask."

I've been surprised that masks became and remain such a lightning rod in the country's response to COVID-19. More precisely, the issue is whether the government has the authority to require wearing masks in a public space.

The argument for wearing masks is they reduce the risk of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has led to the deaths of some 525,000 Americans (and counting). As part of its responsibility for public safety and health, governments have the authority to require wearing masks, at least in public spaces, to reduce the risk of infection, hospitalization, and death.

Those opposed to mandates argue governments are infringing on an individual's freedom and liberty, adding people will act responsibly if presented with the evidence, presumably then choosing to wear a mask.

I side with a government mandate for these reasons:

1) The government has a responsibility for public safety and health, with the authority to impose regulations to ensure appropriate standards.

The history of the country has been a progression of government regulation to improve safety and health, either as society gains more knowledge or to address violations. Perhaps stop signs and red lights were controversial when first proposed, yet today we accept them, trading the expectation to safely drive to the grocery store for the loss of time and personal freedom.

2) Behavioral and cultural change takes time, while a pandemic grows exponentially.

When COVID-19 first exploded in New York City, then spread across the country, we didn't have much time to socialize wearing masks and overcome the inconvenience, discomfort, and self-consciousness doing so. If I'm the only one in a store wearing a mask, I'll take it off so I won't stand out and be embarrassed — particularly since wearing masks quickly became polarized, an unfortunate symbol of a different argument.

Intuitively, wearing a mask reduces the transmission of particles to and from the lungs, and much experimental data confirms their effectiveness. Their use is accepted in other countries: I've seen many people wearing masks in China, whether to prevent disease or reduce breathing pollutants from the air.

I doubt my reasoning will convince those who see this as a violation of personal freedom. I suspect the issue is not COVID-19, it's the relationship between the individual and society. COVID-19 is simply a battle in a much more expansive philosophical war.


Also posted at my Hey World blog.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Politics or the Constitution?

Ten of the 211 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump on January 13, just one week after a mob of angry partisans stormed the Capitol, following a speech where the President told his followers, “We must stop the steal and then we must ensure that such outrageous election fraud never happens again, can never be allowed to happen again.”

Of course, there was no election fraud.

Peter Meijer, a newly elected representative from Michigan, was one of the 10 who voted to impeach the president. Michael Barbaro, host of The Daily podcast, interviewed Meijer yesterday to understand Meijer’s hopes entering Congress, his response to the claims of election fraud, and what led him to vote for impeachment and place himself in a small cohort of unpopular, endangered — electorally and possible physically — Republicans.

In a world of political spin, I found Meijer open, honest, and vulnerable. I sent him the following feedback:

Representative Meijer,

I listened to your interview with Michael Barbaro on The Daily and want to thank you for being so thoughtful and open, describing your hopes as a newly elected representative, assessment of the claims of election fraud, and decision to vote to impeach President Trump following the attack on the Capitol.

I have been disheartened by the tone of political discourse, particularly about the election, and respect your principled decision to choose our democracy over the Republican party’s allegiance to President Trump. May your leadership be an example to the party.

May you be safe and have a successful term, building bridges with your colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

Reference

House of Representatives vote to impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors. Roll Call 17 | Bill Number: H. Res. 24

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Impeach Him Again? Yes.

I sent the following to Representative Annie Kuster today.

I am writing to support the impeachment of President Trump in response to Wednesday’s violent mob attack on the Capitol, which interrupted Congress’ acceptance of the votes from the Electoral College and, more profoundly, threatened the safety of government officials, led to the death of Brian Sicknick, and desecrated our democracy.

As you know, the Constitution provides a process for removing a President from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” In my view, President Trump’s false, absurd, and continued gaslighting that the election was fraudulent, culminating in his rally on Wednesday, where he instructed attendees to go to the Capitol to “stop the steal,” is sedition — which certainly qualifies for impeachment.

President Trump’s subsequent video telling supporters to go home, that he loved them and knows how they feel, did not condemn the violence and lawlessness, and he continued to falsely claim a fraudulent election. Only the following day did he release a video addressing the “heinous attack on the United States Capitol” and, for the first time, conceding the election — perhaps because Congress had, indeed, certified the election.

Although President Trump has now acknowledged he will leave office on January 20, impeachment is warranted: to warn those extremists who flagrantly attacked our democracy and to provide a coda to this travesty of governance, that the House of Representatives held a delusional and despotic President accountable.

References

Transcript of President Trump's Save America rally speech on January 6.

Transcript of President Trump's video telling protestors "So go home. We love you. You’re very special."

Transcript of President Trump's video acknowledging "a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th."