No one really wants to say this about national political leadership, especially in a time of serious nationwide distress and even moreso at a time of heightened political tension and presidential elections, lest one’s comments be dismissed as being politically motivated.
However given the events of the past months and especially the past few days, it must be said:
Our national (and some state) political leaders are demonstrating a wanton, deliberate and callous disregard for truth and for science, and as a result we are now entering a period of intense national emergency leading to avoidable illness, death and potential economic dislocation of the highest order.
Their disregard for the truth will simply not make it otherwise. Their admission of failure and a massive redirection could still impact the severe decree.
I accept the reality that what I say and what I write probably won’t have much if any impact. I also know people will dismiss the recent editorials and statements coming from the reputable medical community about the dangers of our current situation, since so many among us have been so dismissive of such warnings for so long—including ridicule from the highest office/spokesperson in the land.
You can yell, you can shout, you can reason, you can beg, you can cajole, however the counterfactuals have been so overwhelming and come from such traditional places of national respect that they drown out the warnings as though they were mere piffles on the waves of resentment, diminishing them as “fake news” and lacking of merit.
I assure you they are not. The warnings are from people who have studied these issues for a lifetime. Their predictions have been right on target, and selecting/editing quotes that belie the underlying message will not diminish their scientific knowledge or commitment or their message and their knowledge.
I am not alone in sharing my concerns within the the medical profession: several weeks ago the world’s leading medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote a scathing editorial about the administration’s response to COVID-19, and broke long-standing tradition by endorsing the presidential candidate of the “other” party. And yesterday the equally august American College of Physicians wrote a very pointed statement taking aim at Presidential comments that hospitals and doctors were essentially “all in” to the pandemic since they were making lots of money.
Shame on him. Period.
As I write this, a very close physician friend of ours is sitting in the emergency department of a moderate-sized city hospital somewhere in Georgia being evaluated for COVID-19. Their oxygen saturation is low, and we fear for them because they have a serious medical illness. In the words of the vernacular, that person is “compromised” or “vulnerable”.
According to the President’s advisor, they should be “protected.” But they are a front line physician, so no foolproof protection for them. They are “essential” and need to continue to care for their patients.
Truth be told, many adults in this country are “vulnerable” for one reason or another. The fact: there is no way to “protect” the vulnerable, for reality is most of us adults are “vulnerable.”
I began thinking out loud recently that this concept of “protecting the vulnerable” is taking us down a path that I have seen before during discussions regarding planning for an event during the COVID-19 pandemic: “mark” those attending with some sort of wrist band to indicate how they view their own vulnerability, with green meaning “I am OK. Hug me, kiss me, do whatever you want;” yellow meant “please be careful”; red meant “don’t come anywhere near me since I am high risk.”
I can envision this administration with its twisted COVID-19 thinking asking those who are “vulnerable” to wear a silver star on their clothing to indicate their separateness from a healthy society. Blacks, browns, obese, hypertensives, diabetics: get out your stars.
And, yes, we have seen this approach before: let’s cull the infirm from our midst, with the elderly in the nursing homes going first, then the older folks with medical conditions and poor access to medical care, and so on down the line. Then the “rest of us” healthy folks will be safe and can go about our business, literally opening the economy with less fear of contagion. Freedom regained. We will succeed like no other society has ever succeeded. We will rule the world with our new efficient, effective, committed society.
For those who think this couldn’t happen in our great nation, that our citizens are simply too grounded in care, compassion and faith, then I suggest you get out the history books and hop back a couple of short decades ago and see how it actually did happen in another society that was intellectual, committed to science, and was taken over by populism with the most savage of outcomes. (One book that brings it home is Winds of War by Herman Wouk. The parallels are chillingly on point.)
That is not the way our society works or should work. It has always at least been theoretically held as a key principle that we should care most for the weakest among us, those less fortunate, those who need our help with a hand up. Maybe it hasn’t always been true, however we have never had the negation of that commitment thrown in our face the way we are experiencing it right now.
So lies get thrown at us and the masses believe them. Lies such as “we are turning the corner” to which I respond that yes we are, however in the wrong direction and there is a tractor trailer bearing down on us around that corner in the wrong lane; Or how about this weekend’s admission the virus is out of our control until we get vaccines and treatments—which are still months away if not a year away for most of us, and which by the way is inherently untrue since there is much we can do today even without lockdowns to control the spread of this scourge.
I accept the reality that what I say and what I write probably won’t have much if any impact. I know people will dismiss out of hand the commentaries coming from the reputable medical community about the dangers of our current situation, since so many have been so dismissive of such warnings for so long—including by the highest office/spokesperson in the land. Our society now accepts lies as truth. Hard to believe but true.
This virus is cunning. It will spread through the weakest links in our diminishing efforts to contain it, and it will lead to death and destruction. It will lead to serious illness which could have been avoided in the first place if we had only taken some simple steps. It will mutate to gain an upper hand when it senses it has been beaten elsewhere. It will not bend to falsehoods or political magical thinking.
You have no idea how difficult it is to write this statement on a personal and emotional level:
Our national leaders should be ashamed. They are smart, they know better, and they know differently. Focusing on the good of this nation would have brought them inestimable benefit in reputation—and even reelection. However they chose a less-truthful message. They followed the path that should have been less chosen.
And for all of those reasons, we as a nation will suffer terribly.