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Commentary COVID-19 in Maryland

Frank DeFilippo: Masks Become a Staple, Impeachment Was an Education

Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) leaves the State House on Jan. 22. Mask use, columnist Frank DeFilippo posits, may be here to stay. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

One by one, and two by two, they come, in all sizes, shapes, colors, genders and manner of dress, most of them masked and ready to distance – in supermarket lines, on parking lots, at stadiums and in queues hoping to score a scarce vaccine shot.

It’s no longer necessary to ask the comic-book question, “Who is that masked man?” Nearly everybody’s masked, or should be. Maryland is all mask and no vaccine.

And now that masks have caught on, more than less, the CDC is recommending doubling up, inner and outer layers, as a way of trapping sneaky bugs that might try to escape around loose corners.

More likely, they say, the variants from Africa and the UK, already established in America, are more deadly and likely to spread faster than the original arrival from Wuhan, China, or wherever. So two masks are now safer than one.

From all of the madness and mayhem of the past year, Americans who’ve been awake and alert have learned a valuable lesson about health care: Pay attention to science, and not politics.

Here’s what science has accidentally taught: In the attempt to combat the deadly coronavirus, we may have finally learned how to conquer the seasonally debilitating flu.

In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, was falsely accused, in one of those conspiratorial memes, of contributing to a published account in which he was alleged to say that masks caused the deadly 1918 flu pandemic. The claim was debunked and dismissed, as most conspiracy theories are.


Frank A. DeFilippo

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was onto something when he came up with the phrase, “Wear the damn mask.” It almost became an anthem, but settled for a brief run as public service TV announcement. Now he’s at it again with “We need more damn vaccines.” (Damn is about as risqué as Hogan gets in public.)

Hospitals across the nation have reported a massive decline in the admission of flu cases this winter, and it wasn’t the annual flu shots that caused the remission. It was the mask.

The mask, and other precautions against COVID-19, have worked better than anything in the medicine chest to scare away the dreaded flu bug. As bothersome and socially cumbersome as they may be, the mask is now destined to become a staple of the seasonal wardrobe as much as scarves and gloves. They’re worth the bother to avoid even a sniffle.

The mask, of different degrees of protection and efficacy, has become a fashion statement, a political rallying cry, an expression of patriotism, a lifestyle caption, a buccal cavity bumper sticker and given each of us the equalizer of partial anonymity. No need to smile once just to get it over with, as W.C. Fields would say.

The mask, in fact, has become such an indispensable tool in deflecting germs that double-masking is now the recommended therapy. A mask-over-a-mask, according to the CDC, will tighten the corners and prevent the unintentional escape of offending aerosols into the immediate environment.

And thus, a fashion trend is born.

Asians have been wearing masks for decades as antidotes to smog. They work as well against the flu, catching and muffling those airborne droplets of saliva and snot that pollute anything and anyone within six feet of their infectious spray.

The mask has other benefits. Though they may strain hearing and comprehension at times, especially with low talkers, masks have the added benefit of concealing sardonic smirks and wry smiles and provide an effective barrier for halitosis. And they conceal those smart-ass, under-the-breath remarks that often cause trouble with lip-readers. Eye contact is more significant than ever.

Even kids returning to school soon must wear masks. This could be a blessing for teachers by helping to stifle classroom chatterboxes.

Masks now come in many flavors of fashion and social statements, plain and fancy. Properly haberdashed men can even buy packets of masks at high-end shops that are made of shirting fabrics to match the other elements of their peacock drapery. Imagine the kaleidoscopic display of fashionable masks at women’s salons, from androgynous leopard to coquettish sequins that would appear snappy in a Ru Paul drag race.

But never fear, there are still a few maskless knuckleheads who are convinced that their individual liberty is more precious than the health of the many, like that eminent libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), or the QAnon priestess, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). A mask sure beats an isolation ward and a ventilator. By next season’s fashion standards, when the flu makes its regularly scheduled visit, the two may appear underdressed.

The CDC tests masking on dummies. They ought to test them on Paul and Greene.

Recall, too, that the bloodthirsty mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was almost universally maskless, following the direction of their barefaced leader and provocateur, the twice-impeached former President Donald Trump

Members of the Maryland Senate, by exemplary contrast, are not only masked. They are encapsulated in individual glass yurts where they can yammer all day and night without fine-spraying an equally protected neighbor. A wide-angle camera shot of them from a chamber gallery gives the Senate the appearance of mice in a maze.

Democracy is about common denominators. We are now engaged in a class war over injecting the vaccine separately, but equally, not only in America but around the world, arguing that races, colors, nationalities, wealth, and other equalizing factors must be arithmetically balanced.

The solution is simple. Bring on the vaccine.

Among the few places where it was safe and sane to be without a mask was at home in front of a television set tuned to the impeachment hearings.

The national attention to the impeachment process has made us more enlightened historians, legal analysts and Constitutional dabblers.

The display of democracy in action in real time was the second impeachment trial of Trump as it played out in the usually austere U.S. Senate chamber that, only a few weeks earlier, had been under assault by a Trump-incited mob.

U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.). Official U.S. House photo.

It was a master class in preparation and prosecutorial procedure, presented by the House of Representatives impeachment managers, led by Maryland’s Rep. Jamie Raskin (D), in real life a professor of Constitutional law.

Trump was hung by his own words. The evidence was overwhelming even though the verdict was considered predictable. Trump declined to testify.

“Remember this day forever.” Trump will get his wish. His words will ring in infamy through the ages and history books.

Forget the defense. They had no case. There is an unwritten rule of legislative bodies: There are two ways to deal with an issue – on its merits, or with the votes. The Trump defense had nothing to offer but their assured Pavlovian votes, enough for acquittal but not innocence, the identical verdict as Trump’s first impeachment. Senate Democrats needed 17 Republicans to join them for conviction; they got seven.

As is customary in defense of Trump, his lawyers portrayed him as a victim, this time of “hatred,” presenting a forlorn Trump as the thing he detests the most, a chronic loser.

The argument that it is unconstitutional to impeach a president after he leaves office was baloney, as even many conservative legal scholars attest. And the First Amendment wept when Trump’s defense protested that he was merely engaging his right to free speech.

Here it is fair to ask: Since when are defense attorneys permitted to huddle and consult with those who serve as jurors – as did Trump’s impeachment lawyers meet with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah)? Though Trump’s impeachment was not a criminal trial, such a meeting would normally be considered jury tampering.

We should all be more enlightened for the exposure. Where else, for example, short of the classroom, was there available a such an illuminating seminar on the First Amendment? Or the Fourteenth? Or even a smattering of the Twenty-Fifth?

Or at what other time on television has there been a learned discussion of the Federalist Papers, the Founders’ footnotes to the Constitution and their insights and reasoning as to why they designed the nation’s founding document as they did.

And when else have we seen such compelling evidence of sedition, pure and simple.

It was the House managers’ presentation that was as captivating as it was horrifying, a multi-media display of a Trump-inspired mob run riotous, destructive and murderous at the seat of democracy.

The managers laid out a tapestry of unmistakable involvement and compelling evidence, factually and in a time-line that connected Trump directly to the destructive day of Jan. 6 and the blood-lust threat to the lives of those first and second in the line of succession to the presidency – Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Much of the defense centered around hair-splitting definitions and word-play on the First Amendment and whether Trump directly ordered the attack on the Capitol building. Yeah, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech from government intrusion. And yeah, a person can yell and scream their lungs out as long as they’re willing to suffer the consequences.

But yes, First Amendment aficionados, there are limits to free expression – and they include inciting mobs to riot against the very government the president had sworn to defend as commander in-chief, whether in or out of office.


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Frank DeFilippo: Masks Become a Staple, Impeachment Was an Education