Has Trump made mask denial a religion?

It’s hard to comprehend why President Trump has been so resolute — put aside his recent, and apparently momentary-only  lapse — that mask wearing isn’t really helpful either to the wearer or her neighbor.

Has he been afraid that the public would see how bad the virus really is, as if it doesn’t know?  Is it that he somehow feels that he doesn’t look good in one so that making himself a mask-wearing role model for the nation would be antithetical to his self-image?  Is it pure ego — “I’m right, the supposed experts are wrong” — just like in the case of hydroxychloroquine?  Or all of the above?

Or is it something deeper altogether? Despite his seemingly craven lifestyle over the years, maybe Trump is actually a deeply devout individual and wearing a mask — unlike Moses who wore one for a different purpose  (Exodus 34: 33-35) — would be blasphemous.  Perhaps it would be something like a tattoo, proscribed by the Bible as disrespectful to God (and maybe even to the memory of Moses who presented the injunction against tattoos on God’s behalf  to the congregation of man). Yeah, that’s it: “My reading of the Bible tells me that hiding one’s face from God actually risks denying God’s existence.”  And so, essentially, “One needs to even risk one’s life and the safety of others in deference to one’s belief in God. I would be a total infidel if I wore a mask!”  Indeed, a reason not to wear a mask even if the danger is readily apparent to most sentient beings.

Actually, in religious terminology,  followers of the president might see it as “sacrilegious” to wear a mask  – almost as if his mask-denier adherents were members of a modern day cult who rationalize the danger, repudiating  the reality that true experts have so clearly demonstrated about the efficacy of the mask.

All of this aside, the importance of preserving and sustaining human life is vital to any religious belief. And President Trump pays considerable attention to the wishes of his Christian (especially Evangelical) base, and indeed those Orthodox members of the Jewish faith who follow his lead. Yet, somehow, they seem not disturbed at all that he – leader of the free world (yes, no other phrase will do) – is unwilling to wear, or even advocate for the populace to wear, a mask. Why is that?  Sure, it would be interesting if wearing a mask were banned by religion for whatever crazy reason. But there is no such ban, and religion is not the reason for Trump’s position or for the divide in America that is so apparent, particularly when one watches a Trump rally.

So, why does so much of America follow Trump’s lead? Make no mistake, if he wore a mask — and basically implored everyone to — those at the June 20th Tulsa Rally or at the July 3rd celebration at Mount Rushmore or the July 4th celebration on the Washington Mall would have worn a mask. And so would virtually all of his followers – as Jonathan Swan of Axios so urgently told him during his extraordinary interview aired this week.  They would have worn a mask proudly, defiantly, as if the mask were religiously commanded by a president protecting their religious — or is it cultural? — beliefs encouraging the preservation of life.

And maybe that’s it? What Trump has managed to do with a significant membership of the population is to create a blindly obeisant, virtually religious dynamic — although it is more “Do as I say” than “Do as I do.”  It has become as if those who have chosen to follow Trump, have acceded to the Bible’s phraseology of following God’s ways. And now the ways of Trump himself  great defender of religious life. It’s almost as if, for Trump (and thus his complaisant followers), mask wearing is not just useless, but is somehow actually harmful.

Imitatio Dei has taken on a drastically new meaning.  Both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles (Ezekiel 13:9;  Matthew 7:15) tell us to beware of false prophets  — a truly important message for today!


About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Stroock in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” Dale J. Degenshein assists in preparing the articles on this blog.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Stroock firm or its lawyers.
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