This week’s Pew poll has mixed news on mask-wearing, a proven method of reducing the likelihood of coronavirus infection. On the positive side, “65% of U.S. adults say that they have personally worn a mask in stores or other businesses all or most of the time in the past month, while 15% say they did this some of the time. Relatively small shares of adults say they hardly ever (9%) or never (7%) wore a mask in the past month, and 4% say they have not gone to these types of places.”

However, when you break out mask-wearing by party, the numbers are disturbing. “Democrats and those who lean Democratic are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say they personally wore a mask all or most of the time in the past month (76% vs. 53%),” the pollsters found. “Conservative Republicans are among the least likely to say they have worn a mask all or most of the time in the past month — 49% say they’ve done so, compared with 60% of moderate Republicans. Liberal Democrats are the most likely to say they have worn masks (83% say they’ve done so all or most of the time, vs. 71% of moderate Democrats).”

The racial and education breakdown of this survey mirrors the polarization of American politics. Nonwhites and college-educated Americans are more likely to be Democrats and mask-wearers. Whites and non-college-educated Americans are more likely to be Republicans and eschew mask-wearing. There is one constant: More older Americans than younger Americans are wearing masks.

This outcome is the triumph of Republicans’ tribal politics, in which identification with the cult and assault on the truth win out over common sense, science and even self-preservation. To be a Republican — at least in the eyes of millions of them — means to adopt illogical, anti-factual beliefs and oppositional conduct. You cannot take seriously the threats of climate change or the novel coronavirus because … well, because that is not what Republicans do, and to do otherwise would be to concede that the dreaded radical left and elites (presumably one can be both) are right. At the extremes, Republicans will engage in objectively destructive conduct to prove their point — hoarding hydroxychloroquine even if the Food and Drug Administration says the drug is ineffective or dangerous, and, of course, going without masks.

Some African American men are criminalized in public spaces, says sociologist Dr. Rashawn Ray. It makes it harder for them to wear face masks during a pandemic. (The Washington Post)

If Republicans are willing to go maskless at their peril, then they are willing to believe or disbelieve anything to stay within the cult. Is it any wonder that these people insist Trump never committed impeachable acts, did a swell job on the pandemic, sounds lucid and is not corrupt?

It is true that some Republicans — especially activists, operatives and conservative media figures who make their living catering to the right-wing mob — might not actually believe this rubbish. They simply exploit those willing and even eager to believe what President Trump tells them.

But this is not an acceptable state of affairs for a self-governing people. Authoritarian regimes flourish when objective truth is under assault and leaders manipulate reality. For democracies, however, the result is frightful when a significant segment of the public remains unpersuaded by facts and logic and refuses to hold leaders accountable for their actions. Perhaps a massive defeat in November will snap Republicans out of their trance. If not, the dysfunction, anger, corruption and self-destructive conduct of millions of voters and their party of choice will continue. That bodes ill for addressing the very real problems we collectively face.

Note for readers: I will be taking a short break until Monday, June 29. Stay safe, and enjoy the rest of your week.

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