Visions of America in 2020 Convention Acceptance Speeches

I watched Joe Biden’s acceptance speech at the Democrats’ convention. It was unusually and pleasantly brief, and because there was no live audience, it wasn’t interrupted dozens of times by applause. So it was watchable for me. Later I went back and read it for this blog post.

I read but didn’t watch President Trump’s acceptance speech. I mostly avoid watching and listening to him, and I usually prefer to read such speeches anyway. His was long-ish, with many interruptions for applause. Life’s too short.

I thought it might be interesting to compare what the two rivals said about the United States of America — specifically our heritage and our historical and current place in the world.

Everything You Like Is (Not!) Socialism

A small fraction of conservatives view almost any taxpayer-funded service provided by government as socialism, and anything that smacks of community as communism.

It’s not just the obviously redistributive programs like progressive income tax, earned income credit, housing subsidies, etc. They denounce the basics too: public roads, public libraries, water and sewer systems. You can hear just about anything government proposes denounced as socialism, if it involves spending, hiring, or making new law or regulations.

This faction has its own wing nut fringe. We heard from them in 2018, when Hurricane Florence hit. A Chick-fil-A in North Carolina opened on Sunday (which they almost never do) to provide free food to refugees in three local refugee shelters. Crazy as it sounds, these fringe conservatives said a business’s voluntary donation of free chicken sandwiches to hungry travelers was socialism. (Some on the left were unhappy for other reasons.)

Strange Bedfellows

In a bizarre turn worthy of 2020, now some on the left make the same claim: any service government provides is socialism.

Cloth Masks and the Death of Nuance – Part 2 of 2

This is the second half of an essay on cloth masks — on their own merits and as a symbol of our loss of nuance in the public square. If you haven’t read Part 1, it’s a good place to start. It focuses mostly on masks and their effectiveness. Here I’ll summarize several facets of mask-related nuance, then turn to more general questions: why losing our sense of nuance matters, how it may have happened, and a few things we might do about it.

I Wear a Cloth Mask, But …

For me, wearing a cloth mask to slow the spread of COVID-19 is not a one-sided question. There’s nuance here. Allow me to illustrate.

I wear a cloth mask at church, at stores, and at work right now, even sometimes when it’s not required. I don’t mind that my mask protects you a lot more than it protects me. And I can accept a cloth mask’s usefulness even when I know it’s far less than 100% effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. (See Part 1.)

I wear a mask, but I agree that elected and unelected officials have confused the issue by saying one thing, then another. I agree that their recommendations may be influenced by their own goals, especially as regards the November 2020 election.

I wear a mask, but I acknowledge that the pandemic itself has been politicized, with deadly effect. Even the science has been politicized — corrupted — also with deadly effect. Yet I don’t simply reject science or politics; each has its place.

Cloth Masks and the Death of Nuance – Part 1 of 2

To mask or not to mask? Cloth masks, I mean. The nature of the debate suggests a larger problem.

Some people’s views of cloth masks are reasoned and nuanced, but extreme responses on both sides are frequent. Even dwelling on the question may seem extreme, when … but you don’t need me to list the world’s or a nation’s troubles. Do we really have time and mental energy to spare for a sustained quarrel over cloth masks?

Beyond health considerations, the cloth mask has come to symbolize for me the death of nuance in our thought and discourse. We’ve lost our taste for complexity, for seeing more than one side of a question, for reserving judgment and forming a balanced view. From our family dinner tables to our national politics, we reject depth and perspective, and weaponize the shallowest version of everything against our political enemies … er, opponents.

We’ve downed those trendy cocktails of fear and anger until we may be too drunk to self-govern. Perhaps we’re drunk on trivia too, in Mark Steyn’s phrase. The almost-ubiquitous cloth mask is a tangible talisman of our inflamed, intemperate time.

I’ll try to explain. And before this two-parter is done, I’ll discuss some remedies — or at least muse on some things we could do that might help. (I don’t want to oversell.)