"I really thought, 'I'm gonna get beat up if I wear a mask'"

Trump emboldens his supporters to bully people who wear masks.

A man named Phillip, from Austin, Texas, called my SiriusXM show this week to talk about the re-opening of his state’s economy by Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican and Donald Trump loyalist who’s been criticized for moving too fast because the state’s coronavirus cases have been steadily rising

Phillip explained that in liberal Austin, a blue dot in a vast red sea, most people are wearing masks. But when he and his wife took a several-hour drive to Fort Worth, very few if any people were wearing masks in the smaller towns through which they passed. But more than that, he sensed hostility to his wearing a mask.

“I really thought, I’m gonna get beat up if I wear a mask while I’m gassing up my car,” he said about his gas station stop in a town near Fort Worth. “I got looks — I got bad side-eye up there.” 

The couple also drove by a church which was having an outdoor ceremony — except it was “150 to 200 unmasked people hugging, getting close. And  you sit there, and you’re going, ‘No, you gotta put the mask on. Just do it.’” 

But he knew if he vocalized that it wouldn’t be a friendly encounter.

Another listener, from Oklahoma, said “it’s terrible” in her state.

“I wear a mask all the time and had to go into a gas station, and everyone looked at me like I was an alien,” she said. “Scary.”

Other listeners chimed in, from Florida, Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere, discussing similar situations. 

President Donald Trump, by his own actions, is emboldening his supporters to not only go maskless but to defy and shun those who are wearing masks.  

He’s refused to wear a mask and has even refused to have members of his Cabinet or visitors to the White House wear masks. This week, he said he tested all members of his Cabinet for coronavirus before they had a televised Cabinet meeting, though the instant test the White House uses has a 48% false negative rate. And no one in the Cabinet wore a mask.

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There have been reports of people with masks violently attacked even in New York City as far back as February, and more recently in many other places, including in Texas. Now that states have opened up, retailers have  been grappling with how to enforce — or not enforce — the wearing of masks and how their employees should interact with customers. As Judd Legum of Popular Information noted, Kroger doesn’t require masks among customers, and is putting both customers and workers in difficult situations and risking their health.

At Costco, where masks are required, a customer berated a worker, including making homophobic comments, when the customer was asked to leave because he refused to wear a mask. The customer also recorded a video of the encounter with the worker and threatened to put it on Instagram (which he did).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all those who bully or attack mask wearers are necessarily Trump supporters, nor that this particular Costco customer was either. But with Trump seeming to make this a line in the sand — after protests around the country by anti-lockdown Trump supporters who often clashed with others over mask-wearing — shunning masks and mask wearers is becoming a litmus test for supporting Trump. 

It’s thus understandable that people, especially in deep red Trump country, feel hostility if they are among the few people wearing masks. And remember — masks protect those around you in addition to yourself.

It’s bad enough that Trump-supporting Republican governors are opening up states where numbers are rising, and without the availability of mass testing; it’s a sign of truly demented thinking among Trump and his supporters that being responsible, and preventing the spread of a pandemic, is now something to stigmatize.

(Just a reminder that if you’re not a SiriusXM subscriber, through May 31 you can listen for free to my SiriusXM show — live each weekday, 3-6 ET — and to a ton of other talk and music channels by downloading the SiriusXM app and streaming on your phone, or you can listen online here. I’m on SiriusXM Progress, channel 127, where you’ll catch all of our great progressive political shows. No credit card info taken or trial, just sign up and listen.)