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Face Masks and Baby Powder

Even a simple act like wearing a face mask while out in public during a pandemic is fast being weaponized politically.

Polling shows a significant and growing gap in mask usage among Republicans and Democrats as masks have begun to be seen on the right as a symbol of passively submitting to government authority, while on the left they are seen as a sign of compassion or consideration of others.

Heaven help us.

When the decision whether or not to take a widely recommended precaution during a public health emergency gets used to put people at each other’s throats and intensify our divisions, that’s another glaring sign that we are in the midst of political system failure.

After Donald Trump’s election, public approval of the Republican Party fell to an all-time low. The Republicans’ loss was not the Democrats’ gain. Favorable opinions of Democrats dropped to their lowest level in more than a quarter-century. Public dissatisfaction with the major parties and discontent with the current workings of the political system are causing increasing numbers of Americans to lose faith in democracy and begin to warm up to alternatives like military rule, according to the World Values Survey conducted by a global network of social scientists.

If that’s not a wake-up call, what will be?

Our state and country face political circumstances every bit as dire as the economic realities that forced Johnson & Johnson to stop selling talc-based baby powder. The company continues to insist its signature product is perfectly safe. But the consumer has spoken. Hardly anyone is buying it. You can’t sell what no one will buy. America’s major parties have become the political equivalent of talcum powder.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Empty spaces are unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics, and they quickly get filled. In the free market, when a product loses favor with consumers it disappears and others promptly appear on the shelves. Vacuums are just as problematic in democracies. Only those wearing partisan blinders can look at widespread public disgust with the political system, deep dissatisfaction with the major parties and a corresponding loss of faith in democracy and see a tolerable and sustainable condition. Something’s got to give. One or both of the major parties have to dramatically change, or a dynamic new political party needs to emerge and fill the vacuum.

We are going through political system failure, and this breakdown will test American democracy’s capacity to self-correct. Pray that we are up to this challenge and can pass the test. The alternatives are ghastly.

Mike McCabe


May 21, 2020

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