To Mask or Not to Mask: Politics Versus Pragmatism | TravelResearchOnline


To Mask or Not to Mask: Politics Versus Pragmatism


It’s hard not to be political these days. Historically, travel business journals have tried to steer clear of politics, saying it’s just about business. It’s difficult to do that now.

It was Pericles, the longest-lasting leader of the Golden Age of Athenian democracy around 400 BC, who said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

Indeed, somehow politics has found its way into the issue of wearing masks to stop the spread of COVID-19. Many Americans see having to wear a mask as an egregious infringement on their civil rights. They are determined not to do it – even to save their own lives.

I wonder how those people feel about obeying traffic lights at busy intersections.

We are talking about something that saves lives. All it takes is putting this little piece of fabric over your nose and mouth. There is now a consensus among epidemiologists that masks and social distancing could end this nightmare.

More than 145,000 Americans have died grisly deaths and many more have suffered for weeks at the brink, generated devastating medical bills, and sustained permanent damage. Yet, many are more concerned with the idea that the simple act of wearing a mask is an infringement on their rights.

Indeed, politics has found its way to my doorstep because, this is literally a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, during a pandemic we are really all in this together.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said that, if everyone would wear a mask, we could get out of this nightmare in four to eight weeks.

So, what’s the problem with this? Why can’t we mobilize as a society to solve this problem? Could it be that there are some who benefit from a country that is divided?

Winners and Losers

There have been some winners in the pandemic. Amazon is richer than ever. Usage of Zoom has gone through the roof. Netflix is soaring. The cable news channels are hitting historic highs, with millions glued to them, waiting in hope and dread for the next bit of news. There are many products that are selling more than ever: such as ventilators and face masks.

But no such luck for the travel industry. It’s hard to imagine any industry more perfectly poised for devastation from COVID.

No one could have greater interest in ending the pandemic than the travel industry. It’s hard to imagine any anti-maskers in the travel industry. That would be suicidal not just to your physical being, but to the industry that sustains you.

Incidentally, Pericles himself was killed by a plague.

The Great Divide

Today everything seems to be defined as a political issue. Even something as simple as wearing a mask to stop the spread of a deadly virus breaks down along the Red State/Blue State axis, the Great Political Divide of America.

I don’t see how the line is drawn on this issue. To me, the conflict is between human beings and this virus. I don’t know anyone who is on the side of the virus.

Underlying the talk about masks are the economic concerns of a shut down economy. But while there may be exceptions, I don’t know anyone who wants an economic depression.

To me it’s a simple matter. I want to save my life, the lives of my family, and everyone I know – as many lives as possible. Where is the political divide?

The virus is not partisan. Republicans are dying as well as Democrats. ASTA says 59 percent of travel agents are Democrats and 41 percent are Republicans. But I would guess that 100 percent want the pandemic to end and the economy to start up again.

False Choices

The numbers of Americans who have died gruesome deaths from COVID-19 are going up so fast that by the time this is posted it will look way out of date. European countries are not allowing Americans to enter because it’s too risky. They don’t want the same thing to happen there that is happening here.

Florida’s governor was proud to open the state again as soon as possible, allegedly to save the economy. But now that Florida is the world center of the pandemic, its tourism economy will be decimated. While Europe has got the spread under control and is reopening again, the U.S. is worse than ever.

How many Europeans or Asians will want to visit Disney World at the world’s hottest hot spot of the deadly disease? The posing of the opening as a conflict between public health and the economy was a false choice. We see now that the public health issue will destroy the economy.

The Anti-Science Brigade

The idea that there is a conflict between science and freedom, or economics, is another a false choice. Science is not a religion or ideology. It’s merely a method for distinguishing between what’s true and what’s false.

There’s nothing wrong with questioning scientific findings. Skepticism is at the heart of the scientific method. Theories are often disproven and supplanted with better theories. But if you reject “science” in principle, I suggest you give back your car, your microwave, Netflix, TV, dentistry, and all the other products of science that make your life better.

Science is the best way we have to test the information we have. It’s only been a few months since the novel Coronavirus burst upon the world. Concerned scientists from all over the world have been working on the problem and have been able to figure out many useful things about the disease and how to defend against it. The body of knowledge is imperfect, but it’s the best way we have to protect ourselves.

If one must throw the dice about staying well or contracting COVID, why not use the best information available? It’s not about ideology.

A consensus has grown over how the virus spreads and how to stop it. For the average citizen it comes down to masks and social distancing.

History Rhyming

I somehow found it reassuring to learn that there were anti-maskers in the flu pandemic of 1918 too. But that pandemic killed 675,000 Americans. Hopefully we’ll do better this time.

As in 1918, there will be no national plan or strategy to deal with COVID. For the White House it’s a PR problem. It’s about tamping down the bad news and trying to play up the news that sounds good for the administration.

Handling COVID has been left up to states and cities and, since that is a mish-mosh of political divisions, it means ultimately that it’s left to us as individuals. We have to rise to the occasion and do what it takes to defeat this virus. That means wearing masks and social distancing.

The more people are willing to participate in the effort to rid ourselves of this horrible pandemic, the sooner we can get back to business.


David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine,, and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.

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