Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the American public has received mixed messages on masks. Republican leaders, President Trump included, have made mask-wearing a partisan issue, bizarrely behaving as if the face coverings are an attack on personal freedom. But health experts agree that widespread mask-wearing is one of the simplest and most effective ways individuals can help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Now, in contrast to Trump, Joe Biden called for a nationwide mask mandate on Thursday.
During a press appearance in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said, "Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum. Every governor should mandate mandatory mask-wearing. The estimates by the experts are that it will save over 40,000 lives in the next three months. Forty thousand lives, if people act responsibly.”
He went on to add, "It's not about your rights. It's about your responsibilities as an American."
Although the Democratic Party hasn't officially nominated its presidential candidate, Biden has pretty much secured the position. And his comments about masks not infringing on "rights" are obviously directed at Republicans who continue to beat that drum.
Biden's call for a mask mandate comes as coronavirus cases in the United States surpass 5.2 million. There are nearly 168,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, too, though experts estimate the real toll could be much higher. The U.S. recorded its deadliest day this summer on Aug. 12, with over 1,500 reported deaths.
Trump responded to Biden's remarks in a later press conference that same day. NPR reported that Trump said, "[Biden] does not identify what authority the president has to issue such a mandate or why we would be stepping on governors throughout our country. If the president has the unilateral power to order every single citizen to cover their face in nearly all instances, what other powers does he have?"
However, Trump seems to intentionally misunderstand that Biden's statement called on governors to make their own mandates and didn't propose it as something the president could do. In addition, Trump himself often behaves as if the president has unilateral power and has not hesitated to step on governors during the pandemic.
In mid-April, Trump unveiled his "Opening Up America Again" plan. While Trump reportedly told governors during a conference call that they're going to "call [their] own shots," less than 24 hours later, he was on Twitter egging on right-wing protesters to "liberate" Democratic states. Trump has also claimed that the president has "total" authority over the U.S. and once said "the president of the United States calls the shots" when governors got upset about Trump trying to reopen states' economies.
Trump's been riding his anti-mask agenda for months now, so it's not surprising that he'd double down after Biden's comments. Still, it's telling to watch Trump mischaracterize Biden's comments in a way that ignores his own past behavior and disregard for the limitations of his authority.