Don’t Be a Schmuck. Put on a Mask.

Generations of Americans made incredible sacrifices, and we’re going to throw fits about putting a mask over our mouth and nose?

Man wearing an American flag facemask
Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty

Earlier this week, I delivered a simple message: There is a virus here. It kills people. The only way you can prevent it is to get vaccinated, wear masks, and do social distancing.

Some people are complaining, “Well, my freedom is being kind of disturbed here.” Well, I told them, “Screw your freedom.” You have the freedom to wear no mask. But if you exercise that freedom, you’re a schmuck—because you’re supposed to protect your fellow Americans.

I’ll admit, calling people schmucks and saying “Screw your freedom” was a little much, even if I stand by the sentiment. But there is nothing that I’m more passionate about than keeping America great, and it’s the only subject that can make me lose my temper.

I knew I’d be called a RINO, but that doesn’t bother me. Honestly, rhinos are beautiful, powerful animals, so I take that as a compliment. I anticipated being called a Nazi and a Communist. But I’ve got thick skin stretched over my metal endoskeleton, so I knew I could take it.

But some of the responses really worried me. Many people told me that the Constitution gives them rights, but not responsibilities. They feel no duty to protect their fellow citizens.

That’s when I realized we all need a civics lesson. I can’t help but wonder how much better off we’d be if Americans took a step back from politics and spent a minute thinking about how lucky we are to call this country home. Instead of tweeting, we could think about what we owe to the patriots who came before us and those who will follow us.

I am not an academic, but I can tell you that selfishness and dereliction of duty did not make this country great. The Constitution aimed to “promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.” It’s right there in our founding document. We need to think beyond our selfish interests.

I am an immigrant. This country gave me everything. I often tell people not to call me self-made; I prefer to call myself American-made. My success would have been impossible without the principles of the United States and the generosity of Americans.

I could just keep making more money, but that would be selfish. I feel a responsibility to do everything I can to help this country remain great. That’s why I traveled to all 50 states as the chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports on my own dime, that’s why I accept every invitation to visit our troops, that’s why I’ve invested millions to create a nationwide after-school program, and that’s why I walked away from $30 million movie deals to serve as governor of California for no salary. And even after all that, I’ll be paying down the debt I owe America for the rest of my life.

It’s up to all of us to recognize that the great privilege we have of being Americans comes with the great responsibility to keep this country No. 1.

I often think about how many Americans sacrificed to make this country great. John Adams wrote that “it was the Duty of a good Citizen to sacrifice all to his Country.” Or, as the classic film Team America taught us: “Freedom isn’t free.”

Every generation has heroes who have put the country ahead of themselves. From the men who left their families at home to fight for independence to the teenagers who shipped over to Europe and the Pacific to fight fascism, our history is defined by sacrifice. From the fields of Gettysburg to the beaches of Normandy, our country’s greatness is steeped in duty. From women’s suffrage to the civil-rights movement, our nonstop efforts at creating a more perfect union are underwritten by the men and women who were willing to give up everything for the United States.

Our country began with a willingness to make personal sacrifices for the collective good. It’s right there in the closing line of the Declaration of Independence: “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Almost two centuries later, John F. Kennedy posed his famous challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Our country became great because every generation before us knew that liberty and duty go hand in hand. I am worried that many of my fellow Americans have now lost sight of that.

When I look at the response to this pandemic, I really worry about the future of our country. We have lost more than 600,000 Americans to COVID-19. Are we really this selfish and angry? Are we this partisan?

George Washington wrote, “Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country.” When we wear a mask or get a vaccine, we are serving our country and our fellow citizens.

When people call this fascism, I can’t stand it. Just a few generations ago, this country stood up to real fascism. (And yes, I know that my father was on the wrong side of that conflict.) And we didn’t win just because of our love of freedom. We won because Americans came together and did their duty.

Americans accepted the rationing of food and gasoline to win that war. Mothers and fathers sent their kids off knowing it could be the last time they saw them. Women worked tirelessly in factories to make the weapons our troops needed. Americans lived through four years of brutal sacrifice, and we’re going to throw fits about putting a mask over our mouth and nose?

“Wearing a mask is nothing compared with what we were going through then,” one member of that generation, Bill Platts, recently told the Idaho Statesman. “It’s so comical nowadays to think that somebody won’t wear a mask when in those days they would do anything for the United States.”

We are fighting a war against what President Donald Trump correctly called an “invisible enemy.” Hospitals are once again filling up in some states. Deaths are rising.

Some people want to create an alternative America, where we have no responsibility to one another. That America has never existed. They may tell you that what we are doing to fight the war against the coronavirus is unprecedented. They’re full of crap. They are lying to you because they make money from your anger.

As Americans, we have agreed to vaccinations to eradicate diseases since George Washington mandated the smallpox inoculation for his troops. “Upon the principle of self-defense, of paramount necessity, a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members,” the Supreme Court said in 1905, in a ruling supporting vaccine mandates.

We need to protect ourselves and win this war. We don’t need to close our economies again. We just need to come together like the generations of Americans who came before us, and to give just a tiny fraction of what they gave.

We need to prove to ourselves and to the world that we can unite to defeat a common enemy, because, trust me, the coronavirus is not the biggest challenge we will face this century.

What will you do for your country?