No, the Angry White Guy is Not the Victim

I’m sure a lot of you have seen this video of Daniel Maples, a Florida insurance salesman, yelling at an elderly woman that he “feels threatened” because she asked him to wear a mask while shopping at Costco.

Turns out the agency he worked for let him go after this went viral on social media. Jonathan V. Last, Executive Editor at The Bulwark, thinks this is a bad thing because “maybe he’s a good guy having a really crappy day.” The Bulwark, by the way, is the internet home for the “Defending Democracy Together Institute,” a PAC put together by a group of anti-Trump conservatives like Bill Kristol and Mona Charen, among others.

I signed up for a Bulwark newsletter, and in a recent email Last made Costco Guy the victim when Maples actually victimized others. Readers of course pushed back, so Last responded with a second email elaborating on his argument. It boils down to “we don’t know anything about this guy and he should not be punished for a 17-second lapse. He didn’t pull a gun on anyone and didn’t assault anyone, so what’s the big deal? And we shouldn’t go after people who refuse to wear a mask because it’s not worth the trouble.” (Last asks if others speak up when they see someone texting while driving, and the answer is yes, I do.)

Enforcing rules about wearing masks during a pandemic is in fact worth the trouble, and we should shame those who refuse to wear them on ideological grounds. This is how we enforce social norms around boorish and selfish behavior. Allowing them to walk away without consequences enables their boorishness and encourages them and others. Last disagrees with this, arguing that we should distinguish between “dangerous” and “jerk store-level” behavior and resist the urge to join “online mobs.”

Except that Costco Guy did in fact assault someone. He advanced on an elderly woman, closed on her in a threatening manner simply because she asked him to wear a mask like everyone else. He yelled into her face knowing he could potentially be contagious with a serious virus that would all but certainly kill her if infected. That he did not brandish a firearm does not mean the threatened no one and posed no danger. Hitting the express lane with 50 items makes him “jerk store-level.” Advancing on an old woman with fists balled up and yelling at her to back off makes him dangerous.

We learned a lot about Costco Guy in those 17 seconds. He has no respect for others and cares only about himself. He loses his temper over little things, and when he does he verbally and physically intimidates people who can’t fight back. He uses canned language (“I feel threatened!”) designed by firearms trainers to build a case for using deadly force in self defense, whether or not justified. He’s jingoistic enough to think America should run the world and ignorant enough to believe we actually do.

It’s also important to remember that this kind of performative aggression makes fascism possible by intimidating others into abandoning the public square. Letting this kind of thing go cedes our public spaces to the most aggressive and angry among us. Last worries about Maples and his career, but sheds not a tear for the poor woman he attacked, who will now have to consider the possibility of this happening to her again next time she makes a Costco trip.

Should all of this cost him his job? I think so. Last would have Costco Guy’s employer make the call (as if anyone else has a say in the matter), suggesting that he treat him like his teenage son if he values his work. Make sure he understands that what he did was wrong. Send him back to the store to apologize, ask forgiveness, and make a peace offering to the staff. You know, like you would with a 13-year-old.

Except that this is a grown man who knows better, or should, and nevertheless completely lost his bearing in a public place. At an old woman making a perfectly reasonable, and under the circumstances rather predictable request: please wear a mask. I suspect he in fact went into the store looking for a fight, hoping someone would bring up mask wearing so he could perform his ideology around the subject.

At the end of the day, his employer did make the decision, and apparently didn’t need Costco Guy on staff so badly after all. If Last thinks this was arbitrary, I look forward to his article outlining the problems with at-will employment laws that make this kind of arbitrary firing possible in the first place.

It’s also important to point out that the angry man yelling at the elderly woman is not the victim here. That would be everyone, including the woman he assaulted, who has to share public spaces with people who have no respect for others and don’t care if they infect their neighbors with a deadly virus that melts the lungs. The “online mob” rightly pointed out his misbehavior and I’m glad I helped. Maybe the next right-winger who thinks it’s OK to fly off the handle over wearing a mask will think again.

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