October 7, 2020; CNN, “Health”
In an unprecedented move, the nonprofit New England Journal of Medicine has published an editorial called “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum” that condemns the Trump administration for its response to the pandemic and recommends the president be voted out of office.
The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized, appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government, causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies.
Let’s be clear about the cost of not taking even simple measures. An outbreak that has disproportionately affected communities of color has exacerbated the tensions associated with inequality. Many of our children are missing school at critical times in their social and intellectual development. The hard work of health care professionals, who have put their lives on the line, has not been used wisely. Our current leadership takes pride in the economy, but while most of the world has opened up to some extent, the United States still suffers from disease rates that have prevented many businesses from reopening, with a resultant loss of hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of jobs. And more than 200,000 Americans have died. Some deaths from COVID-19 were unavoidable. But, although it is impossible to project the precise number of additional American lives lost because of weak and inappropriate government policies, it is at least in the tens of thousands in a pandemic that has already killed more Americans than any conflict since World War II.
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“Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences,” the editorial says. “Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”
The journal, which has been publishing for more than 200 years, has never previously published anything like this. According to Dr. Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the medical journal and an author of the new editorial, “The reason we’ve never published an editorial about elections is we’re not a political journal and I don’t think that we want to be a political journal—but the issue here is around fact, not around opinion. There have been many mistakes made that were not only foolish but reckless and I think we want people to realize that there are truths here, not just opinions.”
“For example,” he says. “masks work. Social distancing works. Quarantine and isolation work. They’re not opinions. Deciding not to use them is maybe a political decision but trying to suggest that they’re not real is imaginary and dangerous. We don’t have the right leaders for this epidemic. I think we need better leadership.”
Recently, Scientific American also issued its endorsement of Biden over Trump, breaking its 175-year history of not endorsing political candidates.—Ruth McCambridge