“Every time you see him, he’s got a mask,” President Donald Trump said mockingly of former Vice-President Joe Biden at the first presidential debate of the season. One of the countless times we have seen a mask, a scientifically proven way to “reduce spread of COVID-19,” become a sign that America has become so deeply polarized, almost anything can be converted into a symbol of political affiliation. By the way, just three days after his remarks, President Trump tested positive for COVID-19.
Masks have been politized since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in America. Asian-Americans wearing masks were subject to racist attacks and taunts, despite the fact that the virus is in no way confined to Asian-American communities. President Trump has contributed to this stigma by labeling the pandemic with terms like the “Kung flu,” and “China Flu” furthering the divide in our country by blaming others for America’s circumstances. The fact of the matter is that only Americans are to blame for the “catastrophic” effects this pandemic has caused. While Europe is flashing “promising signs of strength” in its recovery from COVID-19, America’s cases continue to rise, a result of its inability to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
In no other country has wearing a mask been indicative of one’s political views. In the United States, masks are seen as a small personal sacrifice to tackle this pandemic by progressives but as an unpatriotic overreaction by Republicans. However, to me, wearing a mask and protecting others is one of the most patriotic things a person can do right now. The inconsistencies in mask recommendations by our leaders have caused confusion, division, and hatred amongst Americans leading to rising case numbers. Yet another example of the toxic patriotism that has begun to engulf America.
Right now, patriotism is seen as “American exceptionalism and a constant siren song to the empire” The American historian Jill Lepore recalled that a nation such as the US, “founded on revolution and universal rights,”will always be struggling with the forces of disorder and particularism. It is the same type of toxic nationalism that resides in the U.S. that lead to the rise of the Nazi-regime and both World Wars. This is seen on full display when our leader, President Trump, responds with contempt to all patriotism (like wearing a mask to save lives) except for his own. This system of misguided, uninformed, hostile patriotism has led to the demise of the once formidable United States; a country so divisive, it can’t even prioritize saving lives.
True patriotism should be anchored in love, not fear. America should be a place where there is consciousness and empathy towards those who have challenges. Yet, America’s patriotism demands preeminence and polarization towards our kaleidoscopic country. America’s recent vicissitude of fortune wasn’t solely brought on by COVID-19, but the boiling over of decades worth of toxicity when battling against an arduous challenge. This pattern will continue in our country long after Covid-19 has done its damage, but to fix America, it will require a new definition of Patriotism: one that is inclusive, understanding, and dynamic.