Self portrait by author

The Bulwark is a magazine run by the same people who helped pave the way for Trump—or in the case of Kellyanne Conway’s wife husband actually voted for him—and now regret it (edit: Conway is a fellow traveler with the Bulwark gang. I’m leaving the crack on his masculinity anyway because he deserves it). They’ve been trying to get right with God and America by publishing damaging articles and funding political ads targeting Cheetolini, and to the extent that they help bring down the Orange Menace… well, I won’t say I’m grateful, but it makes up for some of the damage they caused.

Anyway, this week the publication’s editor and art director Hannah Yoest gives a big shout-out to all the crafty Americans making masks:

[I]t’s not just established clothing retailers who are answering the growing demand. Seamstresses across the country have taken up the cause. And as masks sell out at Walmart and on Amazon, there is still one place online you can find them: Etsy. There were over 2 million searches for face masks on Etsy the weekend of April 4-6 alone. “Our sellers are able to produce hundreds of thousands of masks per day,” Etsy CEO Josh Silverman told CNBC, noting that there are now roughly 20,000 storefronts on the site making and selling masks. The e-commerce site has proactively posted guidelines for sellers as well as a warning banner for customers stating that items sold on Etsy are not medical-grade and linking to a full page of guidance on COVID-19 safety.

I have a couple of masks of my own. There’s a plain one my dad made from old pillowcases, but the one in the photo was made by an old friend of mine who you can support at Wicked Stitch of Newport. Yes, it has boobs on it. Boobs are great, and everyone should be grateful for the little brown nozzle. In fact, my friend made this to order for me, suggesting the boobs as well as other patterns. My next mask will be locally made in Philly with a Gritty pattern similar to this handsome fellow‘s.

But I’m going off on a tangent. The point is these handcrafted, one-of-a-kind masks are kind of an individualistic, artistic statement, as Yoest highlights in her article.

Etsy’s reputation is associated with DIY for housewives and hobbyists, as though it is somehow artistically and commercially inferior—driven in part by the sexist notion that women’s fiber arts are merely crafts while the fine arts are the domain of men. In reality, Etsy is a dynamic platform for a multitude of artisans. According to Etsy’s 2016 diversity report, almost 9 out of 10 sellers on the site are women. Today, those predominantly female creators are turning their skills and creativity toward making an astonishing array of masks for the greater good…

[M]aking masks is about both protecting people and giving people a personal touch of style—with custom patterns ranging from pink kente to black and gold fleur de lis.

There is a long history of artists using masks to evolve: Picasso’s appropriation of African masks was a catalyst for Cubism, which helped break Western art away from realism and paved the way for futurism and abstract expressionism. It cannot be overstated how monumental this shift was in art history. So, too, may be the shift in Western and American culture as we face the imperative to don masks. And that shift will be facilitated by the labor of women.

In many ways, there’s a lot to love about this article. It really showcases the goodness, the compassion, the creativity, and the pragmatism of ordinary Americans. It even highlights how capitalism is, in many ways, simply part of the American bloodstream. My friend at Wicked Stitch uses upcycled and reused materials, scraps that would otherwise go into a landfill, and manages to earn a few much-needed dollars in so doing.

But the article cannot help but highlight the sheer malicious incompetence of the Trump regime and the Republican Party, who not only left us in the dark about the threat (while they dumped stock and made millions) but left us completely unprepared and defenseless against a deadly disease that they knew about in January, and possibly as far back as November 2019, which has led to a disgraceful and heartbreaking state of affairs.

So yeah. It’s great that the gang at the Bulwark are celebrating American ingenuity in the face of a pandemic. And I’m happy to call these Never Trump conservatives my allies of convenience, as we battle both the novel coronavirus and the Trumpist Republican Party.

But the facts remain: our government let us down, and it let us down in part because the people who publish the Bulwark—Charlie Sykes, Bill Kristol, Jonathan Last, Jim Swift, and the rest of that rogues gallery—spent the vast majority of their professional lives tearing down our public institutions, attacking the very notion of government itself, lying about Democrats and progressives, trying to take away people’s little bit of heath care, destroying the notion of civility, polarizing Americans, doubting science, and convincing a great majority us to hate the federal government.

That’s something no mask can ever hide.

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