Asheville Daily Planet, December 15, 2020

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was born maybe 10 miles from my home in suburban Dallas, so it was natural that Texas would be an early adopter of open-container laws.  At the time, I would buy one beer to sip between work and home.  I remember the evening when MADD called me for a donation.  My response was polite and to the point: “Ma’am, I’m not a prospect for you..”

I didn’t snort that her meddling organization was violating my personal freedom, my real attitude.

This (temporary) feeling of mine, almost 50 years ago, has been reincarnated today.  When state governors order that face masks must be worn in public to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, they hit a nerve.  An anti-mask movement has arisen to protest mask mandates. 

Countries where everybody wears a mask shut down the disease.  Here, 45 percent don’t wear masks — and the virus is killing thousands every day.  

To me, a movement that fights against masks during a pandemic is insane.  No, it’s beyond insane.  It’s nutty.

Of course, states have issued big mandates before: speed limits, seat belts, car seats for children, smokeless restaurants.   We all chafe at one or another of these intrusions, but we go along.  Our national consensus is that safety overrides convenience.

A group called ReOpen NC says on its website: “Roy Cooper is still attempting to force us into submission through unconstitutional executive orders.  Show him that YOU WILL NOT COMPLY.”

When a Staten Island bar declared itself a zone free of pandemic rules, the owner was arrested, and hundreds of protesters jammed inside and outside, chanting, “U-S-A!”  And there were red MAGA caps and Trump flags.

Yes, MAGA.  The anti-mask movement is a spinoff of Donald Trump.  Its spokespeople ramble and lie like their leader.  Its uncaring core attitude is totally Trumpian. 

Wearing masks to prevent the spread of disease would be the first instinct of these good people protesting, if Donald Trump wasn’t their role model.  Social distancing and temperature checks would be an act of patriotism for them.

Their hero refuses to wear a mask himself, and he mocks those who do.   He crushes his followers together at rallies.  And when he had no leadership skills in the Coronavirus crisis, he chose to call it a hoax.

The Trump factor explains why so many white conservative Christians speak, write and protest so vehemently against masks.  Eighty percent of them are Trump loyalists.  A common sign at protests is: “Fear God not COVID.”

The movement’s messaging does not show Trump influence, however.  I read that Donald Trump has never used the words “freedom” or “liberty” in speeches or interviews.  His value system gives high ratings to “strength,” while ideas around “freedom” are near the bottom.  Our European allies love freedom; Trump calls them weak. 

The anti-mask folks, by contrast, are big on freedom.   Loss of freedom is their main message.  One lady at a community meeting said, “You’re removing our freedoms and stomping on our constitutional rights by these communist dictatorship orders or laws you want to mandate.”

ReOpen NC’s website says this: “Freedom fighters ready to march!    In a very short time, tens of thousands of concerned NC citizens have joined our fight to reestablish our way of life and ensure the rights and freedoms granted by our loving Creator and secured by the Constitution of these United States.”

The Guardian newspaper tells how ReOpen NC “started a ‘Burn Your Mask Challenge’ where people post videos on social media of themselves burning their masks and use the hashtag “#IgniteFreedom.”

This messaging is a sign that Donald Trump is not their only influence.  “Freedom” was a Tea Party watchword, and before that, the right-wing Libertarian John Locke Foundation described itself as working “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina.”  (They urged our General Assembly to “put environmental policy into the context of “the ideas of liberty, personal responsibility, and economic growth.” The Republican legislature slashed environmental protections. That’s liberty.)

“Freedom” is such a squishy word.  As the anti-mask people use it, there’s a strong, selfish Trump smell about it. 

A protest sign in North Carolina had a caricature of Governor Roy Cooper saying, “I’m King, I’ll Decide When You Are Free.”  A mother stands behind her daughter who’s holding a sign almost her height: “Live free or die.”  Be like mommy, darling.   

Freedom is America’s foundation.  So please, good people, treat the idea of freedom with respect.