If only Donald Trump had taken the same Hippocratic Oath our doctors take when they graduate from medical school: “First, do no harm.” Instead, as we live through this global pandemic, we are caught between trained doctors, offering us fact-based science, and the White House, offering political expediency and short-sighted policy that could actually lead to more loss of life.
This is the worst, I thought as the virus spread over the past two weeks. But it wasn’t the worst. The medical fight against the disease has been handicapped by a president who is ignoring scientific evidence and the best advice of medical professions. He has denied, lied and deceived the public about the very existence of the coronavirus. He misled his fellow Americans about the severity of the disease. Early on, when he could have blunted the effects of a full-blown epidemic, he refused to take action, which would have mitigated the loss of life we are seeing every day.
What a week. As we move through this all-consuming emergency, ordinary people, who want to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, are looking for advice based on sound medical practice.
The Hippocratic Oath, which evolved from the work of Hippocrates of Kos, who lived in the 5th century B.C., codifies the ethics and standards doctors still embrace. Not every doctor actually takes the oath in modern times, but some still do, and doctors around the world adhere to the tenets of selflessness, service and care.
In a bizarre turn of events, Trump has set himself up as qualified to tout experimental medicines that have been rushed through the approval process and administered to sick patients on a trial basis. He has pushed right past the obvious equivocation of the physicians standing with him during the nightly press conferences/political rallies. Was it ever writ larger than this? Elections have consequences, and one of the unforeseen consequences of 2016 is our living through a once-in-a-century pandemic without qualified, stable or sensitive leadership.
This is a human rights issue, a political issue and a medical issue. We are stumbling through this valley hobbled by leaders who have no regard for the health and safety of millions of vulnerable Americans.
As I wrote two weeks ago (during this siege my column may not appear every week), the heartening news is that this ship can sail without a captain. All hands are onboard. All of us in our everyday lives are listening to the experts and trying to limit the spread of Covid-19 by observing physical distance rules and absorbing the pain of isolation and loneliness. Hundreds of thousands of us are quarantining ourselves and staying indoors to help stop this modern plague. We’re doing our part.
As always, there is inspiration and precedent to be found in literature. I’ve been reading “Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour,” by Lynne Olson. What we’re living through has similarities to the Blitz, when Germany dropped some 30,000 incendiary bombs on London beginning in September 1940 and continuing for 57 consecutive nights. The bombing did not end for eight months.
Britain had Winnie, of course. Winston Churchill helped the people of London survive the Blitz by telling them how hard it was going to be. He said it would cost them blood, sweat and tears. He spoke the truth in terrible times, asked much of his fellow Brits, and they, in turn, summoned the courage they needed.
Hand in hand with the English people were the American journalists who lived through the bombing and reported the stories of stoicism and survival back to the American public. Those reports helped pull the United States into the war, and led ultimately to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The heroes of that era were the leaders who never faltered, the everyday citizens who crawled out of bombed apartments to go to work and the journalists who told the story. The heroes of this troubled time will be the doctors and other medical workers who turn up every day on the front lines of this epic battle, and the reporters and photographers who are telling the story, writing the first rough draft of history.
We don’t have a Winston Churchill in the White House. Trump delayed enacting the Defense Production Act until last Friday, and thereby delayed the manufacture of desperately needed ventilators. He continues to mislead the nation about the availability of testing, and the hard news about how long we will live in crisis mode. In that, he is failing to protect and defend us.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.