This CPAC Video Says Everything About Modern “Conservatism”
How do you get a right-wing audience to wear masks? It’s not pretty
Watch the video below. It encapsulates much that is wrong with today’s Republican Party.
What do we have here? First, the cognitive dissonance of the far right information bubble. On February 26, the day this video was filmed, Ted Cruz and a number of other Republican politicians got up on stage and mocked the idea that people should wear face masks to protect each other during a pandemic.
Cruz, who surely knows better, mocked the pandemic as overblown, making fun of people who follow the CDC’s advice on staying safe. Cruz is many things, but he is not stupid. He knows that 500,000 Americans have died, and he knows that masks prevent the spread of the pandemic. He knowingly exaggerates the positions of public health experts to damaging effect.
So why rail against masks? Cruz assumes his audience is full of idiots, and treats them with contempt by transparently lying to them. Speaker after speaker at CPAC intimated that pandemic restrictions were somehow the work of sneaky liberals who wanted to use the virus to restrict Americans’ freedom (yes, it’s true, you caught us, liberals love nothing better than mass unemployment and having to stay home and not see our loved ones for a year).
As they were being riled up by CPAC speakers’ distortions, the audience was confronted with an unwelcome dose of reality. Actually, the organizers said, there is a pandemic going on, and we do have to wear masks. Since reality is not as emotionally satisfying as the mix of lies and resentment they had come to Orlando to ingest, the audience treated the messengers poorly. They preferred to behave like spoiled children, shouting at the organizers and then likely ignoring them rather than attempt to be responsible.
The cries of “freedom” from the audience are important here. CPAC attendees have come to believe that their own personal convenience — no matter how small — is the same as freedom, and that they have no responsibility for anyone else. It’s a four-year-old’s “you’re not the boss of me” approach to the living in a society.
Second, note the meekness with which the organizers try to coax the audience to behave rationally. They’re afraid of the attendees — not of violence, but they certainly know that the people at CPAC have been conditioned to behave rudely toward anyone trying to make them do anything they don’t want to do. The best the organizers can do is to sheepishly ask the audience to “go ahead and work on” wearing masks even though “it’s not the most fun.” The inmates are clearly running the asylum, and conservative leaders have decided they would rather cater to their base’s delusions than try to, well, lead.
Third, it’s striking how the organizers try to convince the audience to wear masks. They make a brief nod toward the law, but they seem to realize that this crowd is not interested in obeying the law. After all, these are people who traveled to Florida to listen to a bunch of lies about the election, the pandemic, and the storming of the Capitol. The big event of the weekend, after all, is a speech from Donald Trump himself, who gleefully and openly violated a number of laws while president.
The organizers don’t argue that local health officials think masks are necessary, because their audience doesn’t respect expert opinion (especially from scientists). They don’t say that the government requires them to wear masks, because the crowd thinks government is the enemy. They don’t say that it would be the considerate thing to do, because the attendees have learned to reject any responsibility to society.
The organizers have to resort to the only thing the crowd still respects —property rights. The pitch they make to the crowd is that the owners of the hotel have asked attendees to wear masks, and they owe it to the hotel, as a private business, to follow its rules. These organizers know their crowd, and they know what passes for conservatism these days. They come to the conclusion that the best way to convince conservatives to do something is to appeal to the property rights of a corporation.
Watching the video, you may have been tempted to feel bad for the speakers who were vainly trying to convince the audience to mask up. I don’t want you to feel bad for the organizers of CPAC. After all, they’re the organizers of CPAC! They are part of the problem. But watching these two people on the stage confront the monster they helped to create is quite something. In a minute and 38 seconds, they expose just how far gone their movement is. It will be very difficult for the leaders of the GOP to reacquaint their base with reality. They will certainly have to show more courage in the face of their constituents’ delusions than Ted Cruz and the organizers at CPAC have shown.