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The battle over masks has always been political – The Washington Post

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In June 2020, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) tweeted a photo of her father, former vice president Richard B. Cheney, with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks. Wearing a white cowboy hat and a surgical mask, he presented the familiar tropes of masculinity and of political power, becoming a prop for his daughter’s efforts to encourage GOP supporters to follow public health recommendations to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

More recently, one of Cheney’s newest colleagues, Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), also employed a familiar gender trope to express her position regarding face masks. Calling masks oppressive, she appropriated the famous feminist slogan “My body, my choice” as she tweeted the hashtag #FreeYourFace.

As these tweets and hashtags reveal, masks have become the most visible sign of our current political, cultural and social moment. Wearing a mask is not only a matter of public health, an individual choice or sign of a civic courtesy. It’s now the latest chapter in the culture wars over our identity as a nation, our fundamental values and our rights as citizens. Communities across the country are paying the price as case numbers soar.

Yet the current politics around mask-wearing are nothing new. During the 1918 flu pandemic, directives to wear masks turned into a political battle over patriotism, gender and power. Just like today, clear lines marked the pro- and anti-mask camps, although they did not necessarily accord with partisan divisions. Part of it was because of the different political situation in 1918. As the flu pandemic coincided with World War I, Americans were more prone to rally behind their government than to enter a partisan debate. Moreover, President Woodrow Wilson’s administration cracking down on all forms of dissent made voicing any criticism much more difficult. Portraying the flu as the common enemy, just like the German kaiser, turned the debate over masks into a question of patriotic duty, lessening the chance that the issue would break down along partisan lines.

Yet despite the strong hand of the state during World War I, mask orders in 1918 were not coordinated on the federal level but were left to cities and local authorities. The federal government was far less expansive in power and responsibilities than it is today, which meant that issues of public health policy were often the realm of private initiative or local governments.

Shortly after the outbreak of the flu, state officials and city health boards pushed for mask mandates, understanding that they would be useful to combat the pandemic, and save the economy. Indianapolis, for example, issued a mask mandate and school closures, while state officials in Salt Lake City decided to only recommend the wearing of masks — not require them. In Denver, the police enforced the mask order, but in most places mask opponents ignored them, voicing a range of excuses.

Some complained it was difficult to breathe in masks, or that they made work impossible. And gender played a significant role in shaping one’s attitude toward masks. Despite how cowboys and farmworkers in the West donned face covering, the gauze mask that became popular during the flu pandemic connoted femininity. One reason was an earlier global trend from 1913-1914 that popularized veils as part of the Orientalist craze that swept women’s fashion. But another reason was that masks were either seen as a sign of weakness and dependency or associated with nurses and caring — all feminine connotations.

State and local authorities tried to appeal to men by portraying mask resisters as “slackers,” invoking patriotism by alluding to draft evaders. Wearing masks was a civic duty, claimed Oakland Mayor John Davie, arguing that “it is sensible and patriotic, no matter what our personal beliefs may be, to safeguard our fellow citizens by joining in this practice.” Using similar propaganda tactics as the ones used for war mobilization, ads in newspapers warned that “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases, As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells.” By circulating ads and publications that likened the fight against influenza to fighting in the war, authorities attempted to shame those who did not join the “war effort” against the flu by wearing masks.

Illustrators also poked fun at mask resisters, who they portrayed primarily as men. But some women also refused to wear masks. Several women organized “Anti-Mask Leagues,” similar to other women’s clubs in this period, where they sought to fight state officials and city ordinances through petitions and demonstrations.

If authorities appealed to men by stressing patriotic duty, and assuring them of their masculine virility, the appeal to women harnessed the fashion industry. Textile and fashion manufacturers, who already struggled with a sluggish economy due to the war, marketed masks and “safety veils” as the latest fashionable items. While the fashionable veils’ effectiveness was questionable, it did help to normalize mask-wearing. Newspapers encouraged women to add lace and color to their masks and to turn them into items of fashion.

Unlike today, however, when masks are viewed on the runways and every clothing company has introduced colorful designs, the world of high fashion in 1918 largely ignored the pandemic. Discussions about the effect of the pandemic on fashion trends and the industry were limited to the trade press, and completely absent from the more highbrow magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

Even more surprising, masks in 1918 were never used as a political prop. Unlike 2020, when masks became a blank canvas to express one’s views, whether it is supporting Black Lives Matter, calling people to vote or promoting the names of presidential candidates, flu masks were not used to convey a message, but stuck to the conventional white gauze design. Even suffragists, who were known for their savvy use of fashion in their campaigns, did not use masks creatively. There is no photographic or ephemeral evidence that they wore masks during their fight for suffrage, or that they used them to present their slogans as they did with pins and sashes.

Yet, if in 1918 masks were not used to promote political agendas, they were still imbued with the contemporary politics of the day. Similar to this current moment, masks became a conduit to discuss the limits of government power, as well as if and how much authorities should intervene in individuals’ lives and the economy in the name of public health.

Public reaction to masks and authorities’ willingness to pose or lift ordinances very much depended on the impact the flu had on the community. Rising death tolls and the paralysis of the economy did not necessarily stop the resistance to masks, especially from men, but it made authorities much more determined to crack down on it. On the other hand, once cases went down, pressure to lift requirements became stronger, even as doctors warned that such steps would be premature and dangerous.

In the midst of public debates over flu response, masks became more than just an item of fashion, but also a barometer of public opinion and patriotic sentiment. For some, masks were used as a maker of belonging to the polity, a sign of national pride and patriotic sentiments and a tool of war mobilization. For others, this was an issue of public health. Yet, no matter what was one’s position toward masks, they became a tangible way to make sense of the world around them. In a period that saw changes to social relations as more women gained presence in the public sphere, the gender politics around mask-wearing offered contemporaries ways to rethink notions of femininity and masculinity.

If today our masks are much more colorful, creative and brazen than those of a century ago, the debate they spur is remarkably familiar. Just like in 1918, masks are the visible symbol of our current political moment, and they will serve as tangible evidence for future historians to understand our present.

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Should Politics Be On The Discussion Menu On Thanksgiving? Experts Weigh In – CBS New York

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Getting ready to gather virtually with family on Thanksgiving?

How will you navigate inevitable conversations about the still-contentious election?

Is politics simply to be avoided? Can it be?

Those were the days, remembered Sheri Baker of Old Westbury. Thanksgiving will look very different this year with a giant family Zoom chat, but there are some things that won’t be different.

“We have learned sort of the hard way that there are some topics when it comes to politics that are better left unsaid in order to keep the holidays happy,” Baker told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff on Wednesday.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Emotions are still running high following the the election, splitting not only the country, but families.

“I think our country is more divided than ever.

“It’s terrible,” another person said.

MOREJoe Biden Introduces New Members Of National Security, Foreign Policy Teams

And as we gather, even virtually, should politics be banned from Thanksgiving?

“What I do recommend is speaking to family in advance and having a plan,” said Dr. Amanda Fialk, chief of clinical services at the DORM, a treatment community in New York City for young adults.

Fialk said to set parameters ahead of time to either avoid politics or limit when it may be discussed.

“I think it’s useful to ask questions of them rather than to speak at them and make statements,” Fialk said.

And take a timeout when you’re simply not hearing one another.

“When it’s no longer productive, end it. And that doesn’t mean end it forever. That just means end it for right now,” Fialk said.

MOREGeneral Services Administration Tells Biden Team It Can Begin Formal Transition Process

Or take a cue from couples therapy techniques to help heal relationships with those on the other side of the political divide.

“We are an American family. We sit a the same table and if we expel people from the table because of their political views we will lose our ability to function as a country,” said family therapist Bill Doherty, co-founder of Braver Angels.

“I think everybody’s aim is to try to do their part, to keep healthy, keep safe, protect our friends and family and strangers, so we can get through this,” Baker added.

Baker said she plans to focus on being thankful, to count our blessings, not our differences.

MORE FROM CBS NEW YORK

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Politics Briefing: Ontario Auditor-General slams province’s pandemic response – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk has slammed the provincial government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a special report, Ms. Lysyk said, among other flaws, the “command table” of experts handling the crisis ballooned from 21 to 500 people and did not meet for a video conference until July.

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The Auditor-General said the province had failed to learn its lessons from the 2003 SARS crisis.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

John McCallum, the former Liberal minister and ambassador to China who was dismissed in 2019, says Canada does not need a registry of foreign agents, similar to ones created in the United States and Australia.

Relatives of the Canadian victims of a Boeing 737 Max crash are urging the government to be extremely careful before clearing the plane for flying again.

The Liberal government has given notice it will table a bill to legalize single-game sports betting. A private member’s bill to legalize the practice sailed through the House in 2013, but stalled in the Senate before it could become law.

As Alberta sees rates of COVID-19 soar, the provincial government is enacting new lockdowns that still allow many businesses to operate.

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And Politico has a fascinating deep dive into the Trump campaign’s failed efforts to overturn the election results in Michigan, a state he lost by 154,000 votes — and the state Republicans who nevertheless supported the fraudulent claims of fraud.

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on conspiracy theories about “The Great Reset”: “It would be of the greatest assistance in dispelling populist fears of shadowy globalist plots for world domination if the objects of their paranoia did not so often carry on like cackling Bond villains.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on why Alberta’s new lockdown measures are inadequate: “What we saw Tuesday was inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending otherwise.”

Jillian Kohler and Jonathan Cushing (The Globe and Mail) on what the pandemic means for pharmaceutical companies: “In the wake of the encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccine trials from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, global attention is on pharmaceutical companies like never before. But in the understandable excitement, the companies in the spotlight risk overlooking a major opportunity: the chance to prioritize transparency and global health over profits, and build their credibility.”

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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Identity politics vs. melting pot vision – OCRegister

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The jousting over Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appointment of a U.S. senator to succeed Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is fast becoming the epitome — or nadir — of identity politics.

It’s a mindset in which the personalities, talents, character and accomplishments of individual human beings are secondary to being defined by their race, ethnicity, gender, age and/or sexual identification — and are expected to automatically reflect the values and mores of their designated categories.

Inevitably, then, politics become a competition among identity groups for power and distribution of public goods — a modern version of tribalism that succeeds the earlier vision of America as a melting pot that blends immigrant cultures into a unique society.

Oddly, ordinary Americans increasingly resist such categorization. We intermarry, we happily live in integrated neighborhoods, we have and adopt children of mixed ethnicity, we send our children to integrated schools and we embrace food and music from disparate cultures. That’s especially true in California, the most ethnically and culturally complex of the 50 states.

Harris herself is both a product of the melting pot vision — her mother migrated from India, her father from Jamaica and they met as students at the University of California — and of the politics of identity. Depending on the audience and the moment, she identified herself as Black or Indo-American, but she also married a white man who is Jewish.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Newsom is feeling pressure from identity groups to choose a new senator from within their ranks, each saying Newsom “must” pay homage with an appointment.

Willie Brown, the former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor who was also Newsom’s political mentor, is leading a public drive for a Black woman to succeed Harris, who is also a former Brown protégé.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, still another Brown protégé, is on his list, along with Congresswomen Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund is another group publicly pushing Newsom to make history by appointing the nation’s first openly non-heterosexual senator.

Several women’s organizations are demanding that Newsom replace Harris with another woman.

Finally, Latino groups are pressing Newsom to honor the state’s largest ethnic group by appointing California’s first Latino senator.

Asked about his intentions during a briefing on COVID-19 this week, Newsom said he doesn’t have a self-imposed deadline, “But progress has been made in terms of getting closer to that determination.”

The odds-on favorite among political handicappers is that Newsom will appoint a Latino, possibly Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has a lengthy and close relationship with the governor.

As the cynics — or realists — see the situation, Newsom has already given a nod to Black and LGBTQ groups by naming Martin Jenkins to a seat on the state Supreme Court. He could placate one of the other groups by naming a successor to Padilla in the secretary of state’s office. The same dynamics would apply if he chose another Latino, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, for the Senate.

While the competition for Newsom’s senatorial appointment typifies identity politics, it also demonstrates their unfortunate aspect of ignoring what should be the most important factor. We should have someone in the Senate of good character and demonstrated competence and who approaches the position with an independent mind, as the state’s other senator, Dianne Feinstein, has done.

It should not matter which identity group wins the competition. It should matter that whomever Newsom chooses will be seen as representing every Californian, not just one faction of the state’s 40 million residents.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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