Late last week, North Dakota's Republican governor, Doug Burgum, made a striking public plea: start looking at masks as a public-health issue and stop looking at them as culture-war totems.
"If someone is wearing a mask, they're not doing it to represent what political party they're in or what candidates they support," the GOP governor said, as he started to become overwhelmed by emotion. "They might be doing it because they've got a 5-year-old child who's been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have COVID, and they're fighting."
To his enormous credit, Burgum condemned the "senseless dividing line," and urged people to be responsible.
If Donald Trump and his team heard the North Dakotan's plea, they decided to ignore it.
At a briefing yesterday, for example, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany reflected on Joe Biden's decision to wear a mask at a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, when the former vice president laid a wreath to honor the fallen at a Delaware war memorial. "It is a bit peculiar though that, in his basement, right next to his wife, he's not wearing a mask, but he's wearing one outdoors when he's socially distanced," McEnany told reporters. "So I think that there was a discrepancy there."
I'm not at all sure what the press secretary thinks "discrepancy" means. CDC guidelines encourage Americans to wear masks in public, but not at home unless it's necessary for health reasons. This isn't complicated.
And yet, McEnany added that the president believes Biden's choice wasn't "a very data-driven decision." Whether that was intended as a shot at the Delaware Democrat or the CDC recommendations was unclear.
Soon after, at a White House event, Donald Trump added some related thoughts of his own:
"Biden can wear a mask, but he was standing outside with his wife -- perfect conditions, perfect weather. They're inside, and they don't wear masks. And so I thought it was very unusual that he had one on."
The CDC's guidelines -- which is to say, the Trump administration's guidelines -- are readily available online. I realize the president isn't much of a reader, but the entire document is only three paragraphs long. Trump could probably read the whole thing during a commercial break while watching television. (There's also a video featuring his own surgeon general. It's only 45 seconds, which is shorter than two commercials.)
If he did get up to speed, the president would see there's nothing "unusual" about Biden wearing a mask at a public event, but not in his private residence. What's more, Trump would also be in a position to know that Biden was following Trump administration guidelines, even as Trump balks at them.
As part of the same exchange at the White House event, the president asked Reuters' Jeff Mason to remove his mask as part of the Q&A. Mason declined but offered to speak louder.
"Oh, okay, because you want to be politically correct," Trump replied.
And this is where we find ourselves in late May 2020, as the U.S. death toll from the global pandemic reaches 100,000: the president of the United States believes those who follow his own administration's guidelines, in the interest of protecting the public, are being "politically correct."
If Trump believes antics like these will help promote public health, he has it backwards. If he believes this will help his re-election campaign, that's probably no better.
Biden's 2020 message is a little murky at times, but at its core, the former vice president wants voters to see him as a sensible grown-up who can be trusted to govern responsibly. If the unstated rationale behind Biden's candidacy is "it's time to rid the Oval Office of madness," the White House's latest posturing on masks probably won't do Trump any favors.