Hartmann: Stupidity, Unmasked

In a glorious affirmation of the sacred right of Americans to spread infectious, deadly, pandemic disease, the mouth breathers prevailed last week by the vote of a single Washington politician. Their triumph: blocking the passage of a measure that would have required people to wear masks in public.

If you’re wondering why the news out of Washington didn’t make national headlines, it’s because this triumph for COVID-19 took place in the city of Washington, Missouri, right in our own backyard. Mayor Sandy Lucy broke a 4-4 tie of the city council on August 19 to defeat a proposed mask mandate.

This idiocy was preceded, according to the Washington Missourian, by “comments from 45 citizens, passionate debate, which some felt devolved into bullying.”

Presumably the physicians who testified there that “masks are among the most effective tools to help fight the pandemic” weren’t the bullies.

They also weren’t the winners. The local newspaper, which delicately had favored the ordinance, described “the deep and complicated divide over mask mandates.”

Nationally, that divide isn’t so deep. A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll in late July found that 79 percent of respondents said they would support a mask mandate, while another 70 percent said they supported the idea of local governments imposing fees on individuals who do not wear masks.

I realize the reference to “Harvard” negates the poll as deep-state, fake news to many in Franklin County. But ignorance is no excuse in a global pandemic, especially since the city isn’t quarantined.

People come and go freely to this charming little country spot. What happens in Washington doesn’t stay in Washington. It is thoroughly connected to the rest of the St. Louis region. It’s not close to home: It is home.

I describe these folks as “mouth breathers” for two reasons:

- One, it is through their mouths that they champion some perverse liberty to jeopardize and even kill their fellow citizens by breathing, coughing or otherwise spreading droplets that might contain the COVID-19 virus.

- Two, a mouth breather is defined by the Urban Dictionary as: 1) literally, someone who lacks enough intelligence that they never learned to breathe through their nose; and 2) a really dumb person. See the epic Netflix series Stranger Things for more information.

For those who would claim I am engaging in name calling and insults, rest assured, that’s precisely what I’m doing. In a nation that has lost more than 177,000 souls to COVID-19 — a total feared to reach 300,000 by year’s end — the knuckle draggers deserve all the ridicule one can hurl for ignoring, minimizing or denying the pandemic’s carnage.

Among intelligent life, the wearing of a mask in a pandemic is not all that controversial, especially since virtually all scientists this side of QAnon agree that it protects others from the virus. Recent evidence suggests that mask wearers are themselves also more protected.

One key detail that is undisputed in the sane world is that people can spread the virus asymptomatically, meaning no one can be certain they aren’t infected. So, “anti-maskers” menace an exponential chain of other people when they exercise their God-given right to send people home to God.

Don’t try telling that, however, to the Missourians Against Mandatory Masking. Yep, that’s an actual Facebook page established last month, one that already has 2,911 likes and 3,284 follows.

It's an organizing principle: “For those tired of having rights stripped by others fears! My freedom doesn’t end where your fear begins! This is the PUBLIC Page of Our Private Group and can be used by ALL Missourians as a Forum to Connect and Engage.” (Punctuation presented here in the original quasi-English.)

I suppose the name was chosen because “Morons for Mortality” was already taken. The Facebook page features sixteen short videos with the depth and production values of failed audition tapes for Duck Dynasty.

The organizers of the page aren’t clearly identifiable, which is fine with me. They do make clear that they “don’t oppose the wearing of masks in general” and even have established a private group for which masks aren’t disqualifying.

“You are welcome to wear a mask if/when YOU decide to,” the homepage proclaims. “We are Activists and we ENGAGE to stop Mask Mandates! You surely bring something valuable to our movement and we look forward to working with you.”

That’s a thoughtful enough disclaimer until one scroll to the “Don’t Give Up!” section of the mission, and I quote (again unedited): “The Price of Liberty IS Eternal Vigilance!! That means WE ALL Must ALWAYS work and Work and WORK to stay FREE!! Government has an insatiable desire to take your money and your freedom - They confirm it all the time and We The People MUST Stop Them!!”

Apparently, the government in Missouri has not exhibited an insatiable desire to provide instruction on the subject of English in its public schools, unless these good Missourians Against Mandatory Masking have infiltrated us from some clandestine enclave of illiteracy. If they’re not raving lunatics, they’ll do until some arrive.

But give credit where it’s due: This Facebook group has touched a nerve and accomplished an amazing thing by attracting the support of thousands of angry supporters almost overnight. From all appearances, these folks made the difference in assuring that the city of Washington, Missouri, will continue to put its citizens and public health at great risk.

The anti-maskers cannot be ignored. So, let’s take at face value their claim that the essence of their cause is not to oppose the existence of masks, but rather the notion that an overbearing government cannot infringe upon the rights of individuals and businesses by public health mandate.

By that illogic, public health departments need not exist. If the government cannot implement steps to protect the public from spreading a pandemic disease, why should it trample the rights of restaurants and food-processing companies with Big Brother overreach? Why shouldn’t those Americans have the right to spread illness like the anti-maskers?

As for government dictating attire, why should nudists have their rights not to wear clothes “stripped by others’ fears”? Who’s the government to infringe upon my right to enjoy a beer while I drive without a seat belt on? Or the right to blow cigarette smoke in someone’s face?

Absurd hypotheticals? Consider this one from real life: Missouri Governor Mike Parson just signed a bill reversing 52 years of Missouri law by giving motorcyclists their freedom to ride without a helmet at age 26. Brilliant.

A group called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety tried to rationalize trampling the personal liberty of motorcyclists.

“The repeal of the all-rider helmet law will have ripple effects across the state of Missouri,” the group told the Missouri Times. “More riders will choose to leave their helmets at home, resulting in more un-helmeted motorcyclist fatalities and injuries. These preventable tragedies will in turn upend the lives of their families and increase health care costs for all Missourians.”

So what? Whatever happened to liberty? Sophisticates like the folks at Missourians Against Mandatory Masking can cite history as part of their “eternal vigilance.” Why, it’s just like patriot Patrick Henry said:

“Give me liberty and give you death!" Correction: The original version of this column misidentified Washington's county.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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