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Here’s Why Masks Are Difficult for Americans

July 11th, 2020 by dk

Whether by planning or chance, nations tend to grow up around some single core value. That value is affirmed by literally millions of choices made by its citizens. Long before corporations learned to ape the same dynamic, nations often developed a brand that was considered unique to it and its people.

Germany is productive. The Swiss are precise. Japan is orderly. Italians are creative. The French value beauty. These stereotypes have limitations, but they also organize many citizens’ lives in ways that are invisible, except at the macro scale. France surrendered to the Germans in WWII to keep The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower from getting bombed. Millions of tourists since have expressed their gratitude for that surrender.

This may be a distinction considered too subtle for some, but I’m in favor of stereotypes and opposed to clichés. Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, all of us make micro-judgements dozens or hundreds of times each day. Life wouldn’t be manageable without categorizing stimuli based on past experiences. It becomes cliché, a.k.a. bigotry, only when exceptions are no longer allowed to the rule.

This broad-brush understanding of a nation’s self-image can help to explain why so many Americans resist wearing masks and taking other COVID-19 precautions. Freedom is our brand. It’s how many of us organize our choices.

Our nation was born from a desire for independence. We wanted to be free. Free to speak our minds. Free to gather in groups. Free to practice our religion. Free to hear and read voices that our government would rather suppress.

Critics rightly point to our history’s missteps against the brand. White men who owned property fought for their freedom, but resisted attempts to give freedom and independence to Blacks and women. Fortunately, our press and assembly freedoms exposed those inconsistencies and hastened some necessary changes. The process is ongoing, but the systems are sound.

Or so it seemed, until recently.

When freedom is your core value, opposition to government mandates is baked into the cake. Government must continually build trust with its citizens, or order quickly slips away. “Masks won’t make a difference.” “Work is more important than public health.” “Vaccines open the door to mind control.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when or how, but freedom-loving Americans seem to have lost their way. Liberty has devolved into libertinism. We want absolute freedom. Gravity and common sense should not limit our options. How did it become patriotic to do something stupid?

We’ve become a glandular people, driven by personal urges and not by common values. We’re busily exposing the shortcomings of our founders, blind to the risks they took to achieve what we have. They bound themselves to one another. Freedom was their goal, but bravery was their means. Those two values were always inseparable.

We applaud whenever a singer hits the impossible high note in our national anthem, celebrating that we live “in the land of the free.” But our cheering obscures what bought that freedom. To continue our fight for freedom, we must maintain “the home of the brave.”


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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