Recently the President of the United States tweeted the following:
We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favourite President!@RealDonaldTrump
… and I don’t know how to feel about it.
My first impulse, which seems to be shared by most of my Twitter bubble, is to ridicule him. Why? Because he took so long to reach this conclusion. Because he is using racially charged terminology calling it the “China Virus” which we know is bad because it just leads people to be unkind to people of a certain ancestry who have never set foot in China, let alone have anything to do with that country’s government charged with addressing the infectious disease. Because of just generally all the other unpleasant and/or stupid things we’ve had to put up with him doing over the past [I have lost all track of time during COVID] years.
On the other hand, this change of messaging that would endorse more people wearing masks, when most of the people who are opposed to wearing masks are from his side of the political aisle. And if more people wear masks that is a good thing. In fact, when people change their minds in response to new information, that is a good thing.
And I find that somewhere between the clumsiness of human language and the added political polarization of our time, I don’t have a socially acceptable way to say “Well done.” I can’t provide the little infinitesimal unit of positive reinforcement that would say “this is better than it was before, please continue to move in that direction.” Despite the fact that it’s the most endorsement-worthy statement I can remember this president making, I can’t even bring myself to like the tweet. (And I’ve inched my thumb close to it a couple times and pulled back reflexively.)
But this is the next great struggle of our times. After our attention span has been hacked down to next to nothing, and we are encouraged to scrunch our thoughts down below the cutoff where the social media platform will insert a … see more, how to we find a way to return to supporting incremental change? The world doesn’t have to become perfect overnight. And because we can’t have that, we can’t give in to the reflex of refusing small things that move us in the direction of “better”.