The Politics of Public Health
Titled "Frontline," this art submitted by Kevin Kobsic for the United Nation's Global Call Out To Creatives depicts exhausted health workers. (United Nations COVID-19 Response/Unsplash)
Why have many Americans created a political issue around a public health guideline? Why would people not wear a mask when it could save their own or another’s life? Some say it undermines their personal freedom, while many see it as a political statement. This division likely comes from the mixed messages people have received from leaders. Some businesses have required customers to wear masks, while others require people to not wear masks. That large of a risk just to represent your political party or who you support makes sense with the mixed signals and odd messages people are being sent by their leaders.
Some of the important differences in statistics lie along partisan lines. How each party’s highest leaders reacted to the call to mask-wearing is related to much of the reactions of the masses. Many Democratic leaders have openly worn and endorsed masks, as well as publicly saying that one of the best ways to stay safe is to wear a mask. The Democatratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, always wears a mask at every possible chance and said he would “do everything possible to make it required that people have to wear masks in public.”
Many have called attention to Dr. Fauci’s statements about not wearing a mask, and how he called into question their usefulness during the beginning of the pandemic. He made these statements to discourage people from using up the limited supply of surgical masks that were needed for medical professionals during a mask shortage. Dr. Fauci has since revoked these statements once supplies were gathered. He has fully supported mask-wearing for the last many months. He doubled down, saying that wearing a mask “should not be a political issue. It is purely a public health issue.” Dr. Fauci is also relatively impartial, since he has served on both Democratic and Republican administrations and has upheld the same ideals and stuck to the same scientific knowledge no matter what.
The most obvious Republican leader to hold a stance on face masks is the president himself, Donald Trump. He has publicly mocked both fellow presidential candidate Joe Biden and others for wearing a mask. He also downplayed the threat of coronavirus when it first began to spread through the U.S. He has consistently refused to be photographed wearing a mask. The president went as far to retweet an article in The Federalist called, “Mandatory Masks Aren’t About Safety, They’re About Social Control.” Though many smaller and more local Republican leaders have advocated for mask-wearing and safe practices, the most powerful leader in the country has sent very negative messages to the public. As shown on the chart above, in the last four months, Biden has been seen in public with a mask 37 times and Trump only four times. Some comparisons between civilian members of the party’s on this issue also show a divide. While 70% of Democrats said they wear a mask, only 37% of Republicans said the same.
This sheds light on how the things our leaders say, no matter how much they are based on facts, can do a lot to persuade the masses. Many of these conflicts could have been resolved if the nation united despite party affiliation and agreed to work together for public health.