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Rusty Reno Melts Down

First Things editor unloads on mask-wearing, calling it 'a species of cowardice'
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An extraordinary thing happened on Twitter tonight. I’ve captured some of it in screenshots:


I don’t know when I last saw someone that prominent not named Trump get ratio’d so severely. It is, alas, deserved. What a contemptible set of tweets. If you think masks are a bad idea to wear, fine, make that case. But to call people who wear masks cowards?! They are actually trying to protect other people from getting sick. biz

I do not understand, nor will I ever understand, why the presence of facemasks in the middle of a deadly pandemic, spread in part by spittle, that in two months has killed 80,000 Americans, is such a trigger for a certain kind of right-winger. Did you see that a prominent traditionalist Catholic lay leader compared masks to the yellow Star of David?

It’s not just conservatives, of course. In Los Angeles, a security guard at a Target store today had his arm broken in a fight with two men who refused to wear masks inside, per the company’s policy. Somehow, I doubt those two thugs were familiar with the philosophy of Edmund Burke. Still, the fact that editor of a religious and cultural magazine as distinguished as First Things would go off in public and call people who are trying to follow public health guidelines in the middle of a pandemic cowards — that is, guilty not of poor medical judgment, but guilty of one of the worst vices — is deranged. This is a polite way of pointing out something obvious:

This is a sharper way of making a similar point:

This is an even sharper way:

This is a thoroughly impolite way of doing it, but I can’t say undeserved:

This is really discouraging. I know Reno a bit, and I like him. I think his views on the virus, and how to behave in a time of pandemic, are deeply unsound, and said so weeks earlier. But I didn’t think he would go so far as to call people who wear masks to err on the side of not causing infection cowards. Cowards! This is something you expect from conservative talk radio, not from the editor of First Things.

Something is really, really wrong. It doesn’t make me angry; it makes me sad to see this happening. A year or so ago, I signed a statement that appeared in First Things titled “Against The Dead Consensus,” calling for a new kind of conservatism, against the old “consensus conservatism.” The statement said, in part:

But even during the Cold War, this conservatism too often tracked the same lodestar liberalism did—namely, individual autonomy. The fetishizing of autonomy paradoxically yielded the very tyranny that consensus conservatives claim most to detest.

America’s public philosophy now puts great stock in “the right to define one’s own concept of . . . the mystery of human life,” as Justice Anthony Kennedy, the libertarian conservative par excellence, wrote while upholding the constitutional “right” to abortion. But this vast leeway to discover the meaning of existence extends to destroying the freedom and lives of others (the unborn child’s, in the case of abortion).

Yes, the old conservative consensus paid lip service to traditional values. But it failed to retard, much less reverse, the eclipse of permanent truths, family stability, communal solidarity, and much else. It surrendered to the pornographization of daily life, to the culture of death, to the cult of competitiveness. It too often bowed to a poisonous and censorious multiculturalism.

Reno didn’t sign it, but it did run in First Things. How can we reconcile being in favor of “communal solidarity” and against the “fetishizing of autonomy” with the mad claim that people who wear face masks with the intention of slowing the spread of this pandemic are nothing but a bunch of pus*ies?

So much for “common good conservatism,” and seeing First Things as a credible venue for it. That is one cost of what Rusty Reno has done with this quixotic campaign of his.

I’ll leave you with this: J.D. Flynn, the editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, is not a pus*y, despite the juvenile claims of Christian public intellectuals who ought to know better: