Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron recently announced that the county's mask mandate would be lifted on March 15, paradoxically urging Rutherford County residents to continue following CDC guidelines despite his ending the mandate to do so.
With all the confidence of a patient who stops taking their antibiotics midway through their treatment because they “feel better,” Ketron cited the improving COVID infection rates across the county and state at large. Thankfully, most schools will continue to impose their mandates, but this won't stop the wave of negative effects which is sure to come from this decision.
One may be tempted to chalk this glaring mistake up to a mixture of ignorance and incompetence, as is often the case with Mayor Ketron. I would argue, however, that we are seeing the closing pages in yet another chapter of cruelty and destruction wrought by the peculiar divorce from reality which the modern Republican Party has undergone.
Of course, all of the evidence shows the efficacy of mask mandates and masks in general. While early reports may have had some trouble assessing the exact necessity, it's been roughly a year now and there is no serious debate on this topic. Whether mandates are well enforced can depend on the region, but repealing the mandate entirely can only make this worse.
Some Republicans contest this, but the argument is a complete waste of time as Republican opposition to masking is not driven by science or logic. It's driven by the same element which drove nearly every major rallying cry of the GOP in the last handful of years, and which sets their particular brand of conspiracy apart from other, apolitical ones: aggrievement.
Everything, from the scientific fact of climate change to the “traditional gender roles” of the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls to taking any measures at all to protect their neighbors during a national pandemic, is quickly absorbed by the all-consuming and endlessly ridiculous conservative culture war.
While this may not be the stated position of your average GOP voter, the actual party as a whole and the media apparatus surrounding them has learned that, when all attempts to logically justify their beliefs fail, great success can be found in simply convincing their targets that everyone who disagrees with them, including epidemiologists and doctors begging them to protect themselves and others, simply hate their “way of life” and want to “take their freedom away.”
Of course, logic tells us that being forced to wear cloth over your mouth while in a store to protect yourself and others is not a violation of our freedoms any more than being forced to wear a shirt in a store, or a seatbelt to keep us safe.
This is asinine, but it doesn't matter.
It's a vicious cycle. Media companies like Fox News peddle lies to increase their ratings and to empower politicians who's only constant, unchanging goal is cutting the taxes of their rich donors. Even much of the modern day talking points of “freedom” and “liberty” which Republicans are happy to employ to stop mask mandates but somehow forget when voting to strip voting rights from protesters, entered the current lexicon through the “Tea Party.” The movement was vehemently opposed to taxation and, coincidentally, heavily astroturfed by the Koch Brothers and other billionaire donors.
This leads to viewers and voters who demand increasingly absurd lies from their publications and politicians. It has been driven to the point of losing its original purpose, where the elite funders of organizations like Fox News and politicians like Bill Ketron have little material interest in denying the seriousness of this pandemic or halting public safety measures which would help to end it and save countless lives. They cannot, however, afford to disappoint a now rabid base which has been mislead to the point of questioning even the most obvious realities and downplaying their severity.
Having received their reality from misleading content creators through a television or phone screen for this long, even the world that is directly in front of them feels like nothing more than another, aesthetic culture war. Like some kind of game, the goal is to see their team win in whatever fight they've chosen.
As a man recently interviewed by the DNJ put it, “if something is gonna kill me, I'm gonna die sooner or later.” A grown adult actually said that instead of just putting a piece of cloth in front of his face.
And so, Bill Ketron's rabid voter base, his general incompetence as a mayor, and his need for a political “win” as his corruption hearings continue has lead him to make a horrible decision which absolutely everyone, somewhere deep down inside, knows to be horrible.
There is no way of predicting for sure whether this change will cause an unnecessary and damaging spike in the final months of the pandemic, or simply slow the gradual waning of the infection rate unnecessarily. One thing is clear, however:
This decision, and the web of nonsense from which is came, will cost lives.