Claypool: Politicizing mask wearing harms all of us

Written By Wyatt Claypool, Posted on July 8, 2020

Masks have become a controversial global issue because of what it represents to many.

For those with a more left-wing purview, masks symbolize a social status of being responsible and caring about others. 

Often it is outright stated that those who do not wear masks, even in situations where they don’t seem necessary, are somehow irresponsible or less caring than others.

Democratic state Senator Doug Jones in Alabama even released a campaign ad specifically to urge people in the state to wear masks. It wasn’t an ad to try and garner votes based on his policy positions. It was simply meant to signal that he took COVID-19 more seriously than others. 


In the United States, the partisan divide on masks is rooted in a fallacy that somehow Republican states have been less responsible than Democratic states

Democratic mayors in Republican states have taken this media narrative and run with it by passing strict COVID-19 measures than their Governors to posture politically during the pandemic, regardless if their measures are helpful or not.

North of the border in Canada, there is a different rationale on why wearing masks has created a deep divide between the political right and left.

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians were told by the Chief Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, that masks did not help slow the spread of the virus, despite China, at the same time desperately purchasing much of Canada’s protective equipment.

At the same time, Dr. Tam had also accused Canadians wanting to close the borders and cancel flights from China of having racist attitudes, which doesn’t bode well for people taking what she said seriously from then on.

Later Dr. Tam would reference herself as the World Health Organization changed their stance on the usefulness of mask-wearing, while many Canadians had already been wearing masks despite the Canadian government’s official advice.

It seems likely that after the Liberal government started aggressively pushing mask-wearing as a reasonable measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Since the early goings of the pandemic, Canadians on the right have soured on wearing masks.

It went from being told you were foolish for wearing a mask despite the advice of countries like Taiwan, who were weathering the COVID-19 pandemic better than anyone, to being an irresponsible, selfish person if you did not wear a mask 24/7.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who attended a BLM protest while wearing his black medical mask, despite the government dissuading people from gathering in crowds, may have also further made those on the Canadian right associate mask-wearing with virtue signalling and Liberal political fashion.

The truth of the matter is that masks are helpful when applied to the right situations.

They are a good idea to wear when mixing in crowds where you cannot keep a proper distance from others, but airlines requiring them to be worn on nearly empty flights just make masks feel like a social nuisance. 

Those pushing for mandatory masks in the Masks4Canada movement may be well motivated in their intentions but moving covers from a recommended measure to stay safe to a government-enforced behaviour may just lead to even more aggressive backlash to wearing masks as it will rightfully become a symbol of government overreach into the lives of Canadians.

Politically shaming people as irresponsible, virtue signalling, and moving towards more government oversight for wearing masks is why the issue of non-compliance has become so widespread in the first place.

What is irresponsible is to stigmatize the political leanings of what mask-wearing represents, making some feel the need to put themselves at risk not to feel like they have ideologically debased themselves.

If we just recommended wearing masks and left the choice to do so up to the public, there is little doubt there would be such an aversion to their use.

Wyatt Claypool

Wyatt is a student at Mount Royal University, where he is the president of its Campus Conservative club. In his writing, he focuses on covering provincial and federal politics, firearms regulation, and the energy sector. Wyatt has also previously written for The Post Millennial.

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