Mt. Pleasant Town Council meeting

Mount Pleasant Town Council convened for a normal Tuesday meeting at which a mask ordinance was reconsidered and passed. Adam Parker/Staff

You know the meeting’s gone off the rails when someone compares the mayor to Hitler inside of 45 minutes.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie understands criticism is part of the job, but on Tuesday he and Town Council had the surreal experience of being called tyrannical traitors and child-trafficking pedophiles — and then compared to the 20th century’s most notorious dictator/mass murderer.

All because they dared to reinstate a modest mask mandate.

Earlier this year, Mount Pleasant was a COVID-19 hot spot. The town shut down, like many places, and has since urged residents to wear masks — voluntarily in most places. Town leaders extended that ordinance Tuesday. Turns out, people have strong opinions about this.

This horrible year has revealed the sad truth that we’ve just about become two Americas, each side eyeing the other with disdain. That was evident at Town Council, as dozens of people showed up in person to share some passionate, er, opinions.

The names have been withheld to protect people from themselves.

Most, well half, were completely reasonable. A local hospital physician told the story of a healthy, middle-age married couple who went to a July Fourth party where no one was wearing masks. Both ended up in the hospital with COVID-19, but only one walked out.

Then there was the woman who said this whole mask thing is a plot to allow pedophiles to more easily, and anonymously, abduct children. She proceeded to insinuate Town Council could be a cabal of child molesters.

“What we’re learning — we the people — are that pedophiles are specifically picked for government positions, and that includes mayors, governors, senators, town council members,” she said. “Do you want to know why? Because they’re easy to manipulate.”

It went downhill from there. For more than two hours, people alternately complained about folks not wearing masks while others said they’re tired of being judged for not wearing masks. Of course, one guy predicted this overreach ends with the the government taking our guns.

It’s hard to believe all these people inhabit the same planet, much less the same community. But council treated everyone equally. Nurses — who were accused of being Haynie props by anti-maskers — talked about treating coronavirus patients. The same amount of time was given to experts who’d gotten their information from, well, the internet.

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For all the hostility anti-maskers say was emanating from the “sheep,” they were the ones shouting. One man swore if council reenacted a mask ordinance, “We’ll be watching you!”

Uh, shouldn’t they be watching the pedophiles?

That’s not to make light of pedophilia, which is a serious issue. But it isn’t now legal in California, despite what one woman claimed. It’s odd that so many people have no trouble believing a global conspiracy theory, yet cannot be convinced a pandemic that’s killed nearly 200,000 people in this country alone is real.

Haynie says the takeaway shouldn’t be the spectacle, but that Mount Pleasant, at Gov. Henry McMaster’s urging, has rejoined dozens of communities across the state in requiring masks to be worn in some public places.

For the opposition, Councilman Tom O’Rourke noted the town’s mask ordinance is so weak as to be ineffective. He has a point (see: Shem Creek bars), but it’s all council could realistically pass.

South Carolina cities with mask mandates have seen their cases drop by 40%. So what’s this hurt, other than vanity? And if these folks are willing to say some of this stuff in public, perhaps they have bigger reasons to feel self-conscious.

It didn’t help that Councilwoman Kathy Landing gave credence to the conspiracies, and Councilman Jake Rambo tried some both sides-ism. Which, he conceded, only made everyone mad. But that’s the problem — everyone’s mad these days.

Difference is, some people listen to epidemiologists, others to the guys behind Pizzagate.

“This shouldn’t be a political issue, it’s a public health issue,” said one woman.

Amen. Trouble is, the two Americas can’t agree. In one, changing health regulations and mask debates are simply proof this virus is all malarkey. On Tuesday, several doctors explained that, as more data is collected, our understanding of the virus changes. In other words, science evolves.

The same can’t be said for everyone.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.