While there has been a quietly energetic campaign to memory-hole the fact, some of you will remember that, in the run-up to the 2020 presidential campaign, vaccine skepticism was a Democratic thing, not a Republican thing. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Andrew Cuomo, and every third progressive nitwit on Twitter cast doubt on the safety and the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines that were being developed under Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to expedite a vaccine. It was childishly predictable: With Election Day looming, anything that might redound to the credit of the Trump administration had to be cast into doubt or held up for scorn. We are governed by people who have never mentally or morally progressed beyond the politics of the junior-high lunchroom.
After the election, the Democrats and the Republicans settled back into their familiar respective grooves. Republicans who had sympathized with the Trump administration’s early efforts to play down Covid-19 went back to pooh-poohing it, Democrats returned to their peculiar form of technocratic pietism. Democrats sacralized the vaccines, Republicans scorned them and talked up quack cures. And masks became the burqa of the Covid era, with the Subaru-mounted mutaween of suburbia zealously guarding the new public morality.
The ritual covering of the head or face is an ancient tradition, one that is found in so many fundamentally different religions spread across so many disparate cultures as to make it a nearly universal phenomenon: Christians with their mantillas, wimples, and zucchettos; Muslims with their hijabs, niqabs, and chadors; the Hindu ghoonghat; the Jewish kippah and tichel; the Sikh dastār and chunni; the Buddhist zukin — from Muslims to Mennonites, from Tibet to Texas, head coverings and face coverings have long been, and continue to be, points of religious, political, and social sensitivity. We have grown so accustomed to considering it bad manners for a man to wear a hat indoors or at the table or while the national anthem is being sung that we do not even remember why that is, having forgotten the reason long ago. Ask the etiquette experts about this and they will fail to give you a persuasive answer: Removing the hat is a sign of respect, says Emily Post. Yes, but why?