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Littwin: The mask wars seem to be near an end, but the culture wars aren’t going anywhere

Much of the anti-mask and anti-vax movement has been just self-punishing theater, but the GOP has no problem finding other anti-whatever issues to exploit

The gloves have been off for a long while. And now it looks as if the masks are finally coming off, too.

We haven’t reached the end of our tragic COVID-19 story — in fact, cases are starting to tick up again with the arrival of a new sub-variant — but, minus the emergence of another deadly surge, this looks like the nearing of the end of all but a few mask requirements, at least in America. Or at least in the parts of America that aren’t Philadelphia. Or at least those parts of Philadelphia that don’t involve public transportation. 

The mask wars have been even more ridiculous than the vaccine wars. Both are basically political theater, but with millions believing what they’re seeing and hearing is real. There’s a reason why Republicans are much more opposed, in both cases, than Democrats, and it has nothing to do with the concept of freedom. I mean, my guess is that Abe Lincoln would have worn the mask and gotten all his jabs..

Mike Littwin

When the announcement was made Monday, while some planes were in mid-flight, that masks were no longer required on airplanes and other modes of public transportation, many passengers immediately tore off their masks, amid much cheering and celebration. The airlines have been asking to lift the requirement, if only to keep their flight attendants from being occasionally assaulted by the violent subset of anti-maskers. Flight attendants, though, are apparently split on the matter.

They’re not the only ones. There is nothing to say you can’t still wear a mask on a plane if you prefer, and apparently many do. Something about science, I guess, and maybe the fact that nearly a million Americans have died from COVID.

I’ve seen this happen in my older grandson’s first-grade class, where masks are no longer required, but half the kids still wear them. Including my grandson.

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If I’d been on the plane, I’d have kept my mask on. My thinking is, I believe, fairly solid. I’m old, I have an auto-immune disease, and I’ve got a 3-year-old grandson who, to this point, has been COVID-free and, of course, still vaccine free. As far as I’m concerned, mask mandates have been an extremely minor inconvenience, and I’m someone (as any of my bosses over the years would readily attest) who doesn’t particularly like to be told what to do. 

Of course, I can’t know for sure what I would have done — although I’m pretty confident — because I haven’t been on an airplane since COVID arrived, which has made a serious impact on my life, not to mention my frequent-flyer accounts. Let’s just say that I am a 2-million-mile lifetime flyer on one airline and an elite flyer on another. I probably haven’t gone more than two or three weeks without being on an airplane in the previous 50 years.

As a double-vaxxed, multi-boosted person, I was planning to break my non-flight streak soon, but that was before a U.S. District Court judge in Florida — a Trump appointee, of course, and a former Clarence Thomas clerk — made the anti-mask ruling, which hasn’t yet been appealed. I guess that means Joe Biden is apparently ready to end the mask wars, too.

Now I’m torn. You’re probably not old enough to remember when airplanes used to have smoking and non-smoking sections. Maybe they could try something like that with masks, although the greater danger, I’m told, is making your way through packed-tight security lines at the airport.

Of course, anyone who studies politics at all understands the anti-whatever movement doesn’t begin or end with air travel.

The fentanyl crisis has been a great excuse to juice up the old anti-immigration battles. In Texas, the governor who wants to be president someday has sent busloads of asylum seekers who have crossed the border off to Washington. Gov. Greg Abbott has been saying the feds should take care of them.

Of course, Abbott didn’t stop there. He also set up secondary checkpoints in Texas for commercial traffic coming across the border from Mexico, making for miles-long and hours-long delays, causing fruit and vegetables headed for your local grocery store to spoil at the cost of who knows how many millions of dollars.

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Abbott had to back down because it seemed that many businesses in Texas weren’t exactly thrilled that their supplies were being needlessly delayed. The funny thing is, at the secondary checkpoint, the Texas checkers weren’t even allowed to force truckers to open their containers without probable cause of a crime, meaning there couldn’t be searches for illegal drugs or for smuggled immigrants.

It was just a stunt, and because it’s Texas, it was a giant-sized stunt.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who also wants to be president someday, has turned from mask mandates to leading the way on book bannings and, of course, his Don’t-Say-Gay law, in which DeSantis has declared war on Disney for opposing the bill. Who’d have thought that the Florida GOP would choose QAnon over Mickey Mouse?

There’s more. DeSantis’ team just banned a new math book for elementary grades, saying that some of the arithmetic problems were subliminally teaching critical race theory — a once-obscure academic debate that has come to be transformed into anything to do with the discussion of race. Interestingly, the state has refused thus far to reveal which math problems it found to be problematic.

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Meanwhile, red states across the country are passing Texas-like anti-abortion laws in the expectation that the Supreme Court will soon either overturn or eviscerate Roe v. Wade. People who may be in need of a mask are those women still brave enough to enter an abortion clinic.

And I’ll keep wearing a mask at the grocery store or my doctor’s office (where it’s still required) or the drugstore or any ballgame I attend. And certainly the next time I board an airplane, which, if you’ll pardon the expression, I’m uh, dying to do.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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