Donald Trump's rejection of masks is truly puzzling. Paul Krugman writes that their benefits are obvious. Consider what has happened in New York State and in Arizona:
In New York State as a whole, the number of people dying daily from Covid-19 is only slightly higher than the number killed in traffic accidents. In New York City, only around 1 percent of tests for the coronavirus are coming up positive, compared with, for example, more than 12 percent in Florida.
At first, Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, did everything wrong; not only did he keep the bars open, but he refused to let the (mostly Democratic) mayors of the state’s biggest cities impose local face-mask mandates. The result was a huge spike in cases: For a few weeks in July almost as many people were dying daily in Arizona, population seven million, as in the whole European Union, population 446 million.
But by then Ducey had reversed course, closing bars and gyms. He didn’t impose a statewide mask mandate, but he allowed cities to take action. And both cases and deaths plummeted, although not to New York levels.
In other words, we know what works. Which makes it both bizarre and frightening that Donald Trump has apparently decided to spend the final weeks of his re-election campaign deriding and discouraging mask-wearing and other anti-pandemic precautions.
Part of the reason is Trump's rejection of science. This week he claimed that "science doesn't know" about what is causing wildfires. But it's about much more than that:
The fairly obvious answer is that we’re looking at the efforts of an amoral politician to rescue his flailing campaign.
The economy’s partial snapback from its plunge early this year hasn’t given Trump the political dividends he hoped for. His attempts to stir up panic with claims that radical activists are going to destroy the suburbs haven’t gained traction, with voters generally seeing Joe Biden as the better candidate to maintain law and order.
And it’s probably too late to change the views of the majority of voters believing that he has given up on fighting the coronavirus.
So his latest ploy is an attempt to convince people that the Covid-19 threat is over. But widespread mask-wearing is a constant reminder that the virus is still out there. Hence Trump’s renewed push against the simplest, most sensible of public health precautions.
But anyone who sees the rising death numbers knows that's not true. Last time around, Trump rejoiced in his support among the undereducated. They continue to support him -- and they continue to be his victims.
On the most basic level, a mask is an I.Q. test.