I’m a teacher. As I approach the school year, I get quite nervous. It’s going to be hard.
What really troubles me is the likelihood that some kid will become infected and bring the virus home to a cramped apartment, where a large family is cared for by Grandma. I really fear for Grandma.
My hope is that we can all pull together, be responsible and look out for each other. But it’s a fragile hope.
In my small, southern town, there is widespread skepticism about social distancing measures. Here we hug and shake hands, and we don’t trust the government. Progressive disapproval of our culture only serves to reinforce this way of seeing things.
To persuade anyone of anything, one must speak their language. The most effective political rhetoric adopts and affirms its audience’s most deeply held values, rather than challenging or demeaning them.
Accordingly, pro-mask and social distancing arguments should borrow from political rhetoric closest to the culturally conservative heart: guns, abortion and patriotism.
Let’s start by borrowing the moral justification for owning guns.
I’m not an NRA member, but that organization regularly sends me an online ad that begins with the following: “You’re the guy with the gun, who’ll do anything to protect the ones you love.”
The ad shows a picture of a very tough-looking dad holding his young daughter. That’s the heart of the pro-mask argument, it seems to me. If you’ll do anything for your loved ones, wear a mask.
If the most important job of any dad is to protect his family – and as a father of four I, in fact, hold this view – then Dad needs to wear a mask. It’s not weak.
It’s not about protecting Dad; it’s about protecting the family. It’s going to weigh heavy on me if I bring the virus home to people I love and hurt them.
The NRA is right on this point: We’ll do anything, everything we can to protect those we love.
If we don’t, then we can’t claim that our love is really the come-what-may or be-there-when-the chips-are-down kind of love we hope it is.
Similarly, the pro-life argument is tailor-made for mask debate.
Pro-mask liberals sometimes use the “pro-life” label to attack conservatives as hypocrites. If they were so pro-life, they would wear masks. But the argument should be used as exhortation rather than condemnation.
Matthew 25:41’s “whatever you do for the least of these” is often used by conservatives to argue for the rights of the unborn and by liberals for aiding the poor.
Whatever one’s position on abortion, we can all agree we should defend the vulnerable, and many of us have a sense that in some way or another we are judged by whether we do.
Wearing the mask defends the least among us, those most vulnerable, from serious complications from COVID-19 infection.
In the abortion debate, conservatives are very frustrated with “pro-choice” arguments they see as hedonistic misapplications of our American obsession with freedom. It reflects a slide, they fear, from liberty to licentiousness.
There is insight to this concern. The founders shared it, and it applies to the situation we find ourselves in now.
Clearly, my right not to wear a mask is outweighed by your right to life if you are standing in front of me. And the person standing in front of me, Jesus insists, is my neighbor.
Because I have a sacred obligation to my vulnerable neighbors, the “pro-choice” argument on masks is morally bankrupt.
Finally, we should quote President Trump who, when he changed his position on masks, said that wearing masks is patriotic.
Now, there are many on the left who condemn practically anything the president says. Yes, he is often dishonest, but the fact that Trump made a statement does not make the statement false.
In this case, what Trump said is true: Masks are patriotic. We should encourage and applaud the president when he says good things.
Conversely, many on the right believe almost anything the president says. They should believe this as well, and not make an exception just because liberals agree with it.
We should all agree that patriotism is a good thing and strive to do our patriotic duty in this crisis. It is our generation’s turn to sacrifice for our country.
The inconvenience or discomfort of the mask does not compare to the suffering and sacrifice of young men who stormed beaches, struggled through no-win situations in the jungle or the desert, or ascended the stairs of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
Wearing a mask is the least we can do for our country.
We are all in this thing together, and we will face the consequences of our actions together. If we don’t find a language of common ground, things will only get worse.
We may feel momentarily better about it all if we occasionally post a clever zinger at those on the other side of the partisan divide, but it will be cold comfort when we reflect on our failure of collective action to prevent more unnecessary loss of precious life to this terrible pandemic.
McKenzie is a Methodist in Calhoun, Georgia, who teaches high school and holds a doctorate in political theory from the University of Florida.