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writing for godot

COVID Facemasks and the Concorde Fallacy

Written by Michael Potash   
Tuesday, 21 July 2020 22:02

Some people have been selflessly devoting time and energy toward making COVID facemasks. These are more often than not people with other demands on their time. A friend of mine, a machinist with no sewing experience, spent his hard-earned money on a sewing machine for the purpose. In all the extra time he doesn’t have, he taught himself the skills to produce truly well-crafted masks and spends hours on each run. He gives them away. Like so many others, he’s not here to exploit a bad situation. It’s an act of pure altruism that puts him in the company of other industrious, civic-minded people.

Others have been devoting time and energy in a different way.  Discontents have been showing up at civic gatherings, ignoring social distancing, and screaming defiantly at any suggestion that they should don a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Some, as if imbued with scholarly knowledge, rant about a constitutional right to infect whomever they please. They charge that in a free society, the government can’t compel its citizens to do anything. Apparently, they have never paid taxes or heard of the draft. Recently, a group of unmasked men accosted a mask-wearing woman. They screamed at her: “WE’RE NOT COMMUNISTS!”

Vehement resistance to wearing a facemask cannot be conflated with, say, a man who, having been told by his doctor that he has high blood pressure, refuses to exercise. Such a person only directly imperils himself and only tangentially imperils his family. Boycotting the mask threatens the life and safety of the individual, parents, children, spouse, neighbors, and others unknown. In the earliest days of the pandemic, conflicting messages between the Trump administration and prominent health officials left the public unmoored. But the efficacy of facemasks has become a certainty.  The mask is an imperative and carries with it great responsibilities. Signs and admonitions are ubiquitous and unambiguous: Wear a mask and save lives. What then accounts for the irrational, hysterical opposition to this simple, effective prophylaxis? Answer: In the Trump era, the facemask is more than a facemask. For Trumpists, rejection of the mask is required fealty and signifies requisite political and emotional commitment.

In the 1960s, the French and British collaborated on a joint venture to produce the first commercial supersonic transport (SST). The Concorde, as it would come to be known, would fly passengers around the globe at more than twice the speed of sound. By the time delays and cost overruns pushed production costs to over $1.3 Billion, it became clear that the project was destined to be a commercial flop. There were two clear choices. One was to scrap the entire project, leaving nothing to show for the effort, but logical from the viewpoint of fiscal responsibility. The other was to stick with a losing proposition. It was decided that two countries so heavily invested should stay the course and at least have something to point to with pride. The Concorde was finished and, after a brief active period which included a crash, was retired. Evolutionary biologists coined the term ‘Concorde Fallacy’ to describe the circumstance in which individuals (or institutions), having invested heavily in a failure, continue to stick with it rather than admit defeat and move onto better choices.

For his voters, the election of Donald Trump symbolized the long-awaited arrival of a savior. He was the anointed one – chosen to restore to the white working class political and economic justice. “Make America Great Again!” was the battle cry. His people would deeply invest in their presumptive deliverer. Enthusiasts unabashedly parrot Trumpian talking points – regardless of their veracity. Per Trump’s incitement, numbers engage in acts of violence against vulnerable populations, leading to their own jail or imprisonment. Acolytes attend his rallies, cheek-by-jowl, with no mask and after signing waivers absolving Trump of responsibility. Followers ingest Lysol to combat coronavirus. Trump lawn signs and bumper stickers abound. Neighbors turn on neighbors. Families suffer schisms. Trump is their demigod and allegiance brooks no dissent. Dr. Anthony Faucci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says to wear a facemask. Trump ridicules the practice. And the faithful, in a demonstration of submission, refuse the mask and often excoriate those who wear it.

What has been the return for the Trump voter?  For all their investment, not much – save for a couple of Supreme Court appointments. The flagship achievement of the Trump administration was purportedly a roaring economy, evidenced by a rising stock market and greater employment. Since ten percent of the country own eighty-five percent of the stock, the Dow Jones is largely a graph of the mood of rich people. For the masses, new employment lay mostly in dead-end retail or, the precarity of the gig economy. At the same time, as a result of Trump’s single-minded pursuit of destroying the so-called ‘administrative state’, many governmental functions beneficial to his voters have been obliterated. Among these are protections for health and safety, consumer financial protection, and, in an act of karmic stupidity, President Obama’s pandemic emergency response structure.

Enter the Concorde Fallacy. Like Linus on Halloween night, shackled to his emotional investment in the Great Pumpkin, the Trump base cannot admit they’ve been taken for suckers. Eschewing the wearing of masks is literally killing them (and others) and spawning financial ruin. Yet, defection is proving traumatic. It’s easy for those of us in opposition to ridicule and deride Trump’s supporters – and surely, some ridicule and derision is deserved. But to that mix, let’s be generous enough to add pity. We’ve all endured the fallout from their original decision. But the Trumpists deserve additional pity for the unenviable choice they now face: They can humble themselves and accept responsibility for delivering to the presidency a sociopathic ignoramus or, they can double down in November – prolonging the nightmare for themselves and others. Option 2 virtually guarantees continued opposition to the wearing of facemasks. If they choose that option, it would do them well to remember; at some point, the Concorde went down in flames.

Mike Potash is on staff at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . your social media marketing partner
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