MINOT, N.D. — Monday, a man at a public meeting in South Dakota was frog-marched out of the venue by police officers for refusing to wear a mask.
As the ugly and bafflingly political divide over masking grows, I think we have to ask ourselves how comfortable we are with that image.
Because the path we're on? The one between obstinate anti-maskers and authoritarian pro-mask martinets? That's where it leads.
The Monday meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education required masks. If you didn't have one, they had some available, but everyone needed one because that was school district policy for school district property. If you're there, you have to mask up.
That mandate was a major topic of the meeting. Many people were in attendance to speak out against it. But they wore masks. One man, identified as Reed Bender, refused.
Ultimately he was led out of the room by police, after a bit of struggle and the threat of a stun gun.
How you feel about this incident could serve as a Rohrschach test for your politics.
If you're a right-leaning American, you're more than likely seeing injustice. Police force used on a citizen who did nothing wrong other than show up at a government meeting without a face covering.
If you're left-leaning, you probably see intransigence. Boorishly obdurate behavior in the face of a genuine public health threat that could be helped, significantly, by widespread mask use.
That's the divide.
How do we bridge it?
Those of you familiar with my work know that, despite my right-leaning politics, I'm pro-mask.
I wear mine out in public. I'm not too fond of it. It's uncomfortable. I feel silly. I resent having to put it on. I often forget it. Still, if there's even a small chance it could hasten the moment when this pandemic passes and things get back to normal, I'm going to do it.
The cost to me is small and measured mostly in inconvenience.
I struggle to understand why people would resist masks, especially to the point this man in South Dakota took it.
But then, I also have a hard time understanding why someone should be nearly stunned by law enforcement for refusing to wear one.
Is that how we're going to build consensus and cooperation around masks? With force?
Wearing a mask is such a small thing. The cost in dollars and cents is minimal. The discomfort is minor. There exist some medical reasons to avoid wearing one, but they're rare.
I wish more people would wear one.
But I'm not at all comfortable with using police force against those who won't.
If we start using stun guns and billy clubs and handcuffs on people who refuse to wear masks, do you suppose that will fix the problem? Or will the chasm between us grow larger?
"In practice, if Americans are going to mask up, public-health officials will have to cajole, not compel," Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus wrote for The Atlantic in June.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.