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Sat Oct 17, 2020, 01:37 PM

There's a Word for Why We Wear Masks, and Liberals Should Say It

Tweet text: Michael Tomasky
My latest for @nytopinion: No, not wearing a mask is not "freedom," even by the standard *conservative* definition of the word. This is insane. It is chaos, which is unfreedom. Democrats must say so.
A Trump rally in Pennsylvania this month.
Opinion | There’s a Word for Why We Wear Masks, and Liberals Should Say It
“Freedom” means the freedom not to get infected by people who refuse to follow safety guidelines.


Donald Trump is now back on the road, holding rallies in battleground states. These events, with people behind the president wearing masks but most others not, look awfully irresponsible to most of us — some polls show that as many as 92 percent of Americans typically wear masks when they go out.

Trumpworld sees these things differently. Mike Pence articulated the view in the vice-presidential debate. “We’re about freedom and respecting the freedom of the American people,” Mr. Pence said. The topic at hand was the Sept. 26 super-spreader event in the Rose Garden to introduce Amy Coney Barrett as the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court and how the administration can expect Americans to follow safety guidelines that it has often ignored.

Kamala Harris countered that lying to the American people about the severity of the virus hardly counts as “respect.”

It was a pretty good riposte, but she fixed on the wrong word. She could have delivered a far more devastating response if she’d focused on the right word, one that the Democrats have not employed over the past several months.

The word I mean is “freedom.” One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In “On Liberty,” he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means “doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.”


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