AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman
On April 12, about a week before the Biden administration’s mask mandate for transportation on planes, busses, and trains was struck down by a federal judge in Florida, I set out to return from a one-month stay in the United Kingdom. The experience was surreal. When I flew to the U.K., I did have to provide evidence of vaccination, but that was all. No test or anything else. By contrast, in order to return to the United States, it was necessary to take a COVID-19 test on video less than 24 hours before a flight.
This experience underscored how Democrats reacting with horror to the end of the federal mask mandate do not quite grasp just what an outlier the United States has turned into when it comes to COVID-19 policies. Masking is not some sort of international “best practice” but rather is something that has long since been dropped throughout Europe, and the attachment to it is evidence of how insular liberals have turned in their hour of agony. That they cannot bring themselves to abandon it, even when the rest of the world already has moved on, is a sign this is no longer about public health, if it ever was, but rather entirely about control.
I spent the first two months of this year in Florida and March in London. For all the credit Ron DeSantis has received for keeping Florida open, I saw fewer masks during my trip to Europe than I did even in Florida. In London, masks were not just invisible on the street and in stores but also on public transportation and even at Heathrow airport. Anyone flying to a destination that does not require masking on flights (at this point, just the United States and several East Asian states) has not been required to wear a mask during a flight, and British Airways, the national carrier, actually produced an ad in mid-February featuring staff tearing their masks off.
Democrats in America are outliers. For a party which has long prided itself on being the party more in touch with the “wider world” (as is evidenced by how many times Democrats will say “the United States is the only country to do X or Y” (with X perhaps being the death penalty or some variation of private healthcare), the reality is that many Democrat elites are in fact remarkably ignorant of the wider world. With two ideas in their heads, 1) that everyone is better than the United States at handling problems and 2) that the views of other nations are the correct way to handle any issue, they chose to close their eyes and cover their ears when other countries pursued policies favored by conservatives in the U.S.
They also chose to ignore when their Nordic socialist paradises have immigration policies that amount virtually to internment camps or when Sweden recently moved to ban puberty blockers. They have spent two decades denying the success of flat tax rates, which ostensibly “socialist” parties have even embraced.
But nowhere has Democrats’ selective attention been more evident than with COVID. Democrats and liberals are convinced that technocracy is the answer to everything, not least because they identify with technocrats. Hence the cult of Dr. Fauci. Yet what if technocrats disagree? Sweden, too had a high profile, media-friendly chief medical officer, Dr. Anders Tegnell, with a research and academic record that towered even over Fauci’s. Yet Tegnell dissented from the consensus, opposing lockdowns, and was excommunicated as a result.
Over the past year, the tendency for Democrats has been to become more insular and extreme as their political fortunes worsened and their coalition shrank. On COVID-19, this was no different. Many liberals have become more, not less, attached to masks as more states abandoned them, and the international consensus became an embarrassment.
Liberals will say they stand for science, but what is the science in requiring masks on flights from London to the United States if everyone on board spent hours maskless in the airport they departed from? Or if masks come off the moment food is served or anyone wishes to take a drink? Is that in any way, shape, or form controlling the spread? Even if there were an argument for masks for a much deadlier disease with no vaccine, it would only make sense if everyone did it or you imposed a total travel ban as Donald Trump did (over the objections of Democrats) in early 2020. At this point, it makes no medical sense.
Why then has the Biden Administration been so determined to keep the mask mandate in place, including recently extending it into May with an implication it would have been extended again if not for the court ruling? And why has this determination increased rather than decreased as public opinion turned against mask mandates?
The answer lies not in science but rather in control. The current liberal elite of degree holders feel that they should be in control of society. The “problem” with American politics (and global politics if you count things like Brexit) for the last decade has been that liberals have not been in charge. COVID was a chance for people with postgraduate degrees to be back in charge, and those without to be put in their place, by force if necessary.
But 2021 and 2022 have revealed that liberals do not, in fact have control. Not of the Congress in terms of passing legislation, not of the Supreme Court, and not of society. As a result, they have retreated ever more panicked into those areas where they do maintain control: culture, education, and public health.
Mask mandates were one of the only areas where liberals felt they could be in control. And as polls show, white liberals, especially white women with college degrees, are one of the few groups sticking with Joe Biden. The recent Politico Morning Consult poll, which has Biden at 41% overall, has him at 53% among those with postgrad degrees. YouGov, which had a slightly higher 44% approval rating overall, showed 50% of white women with college degrees approving, compared with 34% without. While Biden could not deliver on abortion or canceling debt, he could with a stroke of his pen allow this cohort of voters to lord over other passengers on planes by keeping it a mask-mandated safe space.
The court order striking down the mask mandate thus places Biden and his administration in a political quandary. They cannot honestly want to try and enforce a continued mask mandate, lest they risk an adverse ruling by an appeals court which might undermine their ability to implement other executive orders in the future. But if they did not appeal, then it would reinforce the complaints among many liberals that the administration is abandoning the fight. The seeming compromise that was reached, to appeal the ruling without asking for an injunction to put the mandate back into effect, is likely to please no one, risking an adverse ruling without making any meaningful change on the ground.
In the meantime, it is one more sign how control has become an end in and of itself for Democrats, absent any logical purpose or policy. And without either of the latter, Democrats are doomed to a future of unremitting losses in their struggle to control events, just as they have lost the right to dictate what one can and cannot wear on transport.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.