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Thursday, April 28, 2022
On Getting Our Faces Back
Airline passengers without masks prepare to enter a security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airport on April 19, 2022. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
How exhilarating it feels to be unmasked as I walk through the airport, and even more so as I recline in my seat on the plane. After two full years, I feel like I’ve gotten my face back. Obviously, this is nothing more than a return to normalcy, but when has normalcy felt so good? Masks are a gross infringement on freedom—the basic freedom to breathe without impediment, and to show one’s face. In previous times, only actors and people who sought to hide their faces wore masks.
So you can imagine my gratitude for the Trump-appointed judge, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who struck down the federal mask mandate for travel on planes, trains, and buses. The judge’s decision was a masterpiece of basic logic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed to derive its authority for the mask mandate from a 1944 federal law known as the Public Health Services Act.
But that act merely permits the CDC to supervise “sanitation” over public transit. Judge Mizelle sensibly asked under what definition of the term does mask mandates qualify as regulation of sanitation? Sanitation means cleaning, and mask mandates have nothing to do with cleaning planes, trains, and public buses. Moreover, Mizelle said the CDC didn’t follow its own procedures in imposing the mandate, that it didn’t consider less onerous alternatives.
Welcome to Bidenland, where whatever gives more control to the federal government is always the preferred alternative. Sure enough, the Biden Department of Justice (DOJ) sprang into action, declaring its willingness to ask a higher court to stay Judge Mizelle’s order, if the CDC only gave the word that it wanted to extend and continue its mask mandates.
The alacrity of these DOJ apparatchiks is impressive in its own right, but it’s not clear it will go anywhere no matter what the CDC wants. The DOJ would have to file its appeal before the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a conservative-leaning court. Even if it prevailed there, the case would then likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, the very same conservative court that recently struck down Biden’s attempt to impose a national vaccine mandate.
Yet what interests me most are not these policy considerations, but rather the way that the suspension of the mask mandate plays out in ordinary life. My wife, Debbie, and I were on our way to the airport in Fort Lauderdale when we read that Mizelle had ended the mask mandate. We chuckled about it, and our driver weighed in, saying he couldn’t understand how the government could possibly think that a porous mask could somehow keep out a virus.
Once we boarded our plane to Houston, we noticed that everyone was still wearing a mask. But things got interesting when the chief flight attendant started a conversation with the couple across from us. “Can you believe it?” he fumed. “United Airlines has effectively immediately ended its mask mandate.” The couple shook their heads in sympathy. Debbie made a face at me as if to say, “Liberals, all three of them!”
Then the chief flight attendant strutted to the front and informed his two fellow flight attendants, “Can you believe it? United has effective immediately ended its mask mandate.” And to our delight, the two flight attendants immediately ripped off their masks. The chief attendant looked at them in consternation. Debbie said to me, “When we’ve got two out of three guys on our side on this, things are looking up.”
Once we disembarked in Houston, we noticed that word had already gone out. Suddenly I saw lots of people walking through the airport without masks. Debbie and I tried to make an estimate. We figured that about 60 percent were maskless and only about 40 percent persisted in wearing their masks. That’s fine, of course. Removing a mask mandate doesn’t stop anyone from wearing a mask if he or she wants to.
I’m tempted to say there are now two kinds of people at the airport, the masked and the maskless. But in fact there are three. The third type is masked people who glare angrily at anyone not wearing a mask. These are people who enjoy controlling others. In earlier generations, they would have probably been the town busybody, wagging their fingers at everyone and stalking young people to see if they were doing anything they shouldn’t be doing.
I’ve got a whole bunch of travel coming up—mainly in connection with my upcoming movie “2000 Mules”—and I’m waiting to see some masked person at the airport create an incident by berating others for not wearing masks. But since masks are no longer mandatory, this incident is likely to end in security showing up and dragging the control freak off the plane or out of the airport. This for me would be pure entertainment.
Surveys show the American people have had it with mask mandates. This was confirmed in a recent survey by the travel app Tripit, which found that not only do its customers oppose compulsory masks; they also even oppose COVID-19 testing requirements for international travel. Everyone wants to restore a vestige of normalcy as they get around by bus, train, or airplane.
This means it’s going to be risky, and politically damaging, for the Biden administration to continue to push for federal controls. Even so, these Democrats are strange birds who have pushed ahead in other areas, from open borders to clamping down on energy production, notwithstanding the political price. Some people are so captivated by the desire for control—the tyrannical temptation—that they can’t help themselves. It’s going to be up to us in November to kick the party of control to the curb.