by Victor Davis Hanson
Since March, the Left has proclaimed itself the guardian of science in dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic. Its champions are the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Fauci. All in the past have rendered valuable service to the public, and often life-saving aid.
Yet the mixture of COVID-19, the first national quarantine, and Trump Derangement Syndrome have combined to give us reason to question their judgment. These authorities variously have issued conflicting recommendations to wear, then not to wear, and finally to wear masks. Or they have both criticized and then advised travel bans.
They variously have expressed skepticism about lockdowns, then strongly urged lockdowns, and then again questioned lockdowns. When states and nations that are tightly locked down sometimes suffer commensurate rates of infection with those that are relatively open, we do not always receive scientifically based explanations.
More ominously, we still have no idea whether far more have died due to the lockdowns than to the virus itself – given the quarantines have caused greater familial, spousal, and substance abuse, suicides, impoverishment, missed surgeries and medical procedures, educational deprivation, and long-term psychological damage. Amid this void of knowledge, state and local officials have often claimed expertise and implemented Draconian measures that may well have made things far worse.
The reasons for our experts’ ambiguity?
Despite all their credentials, degrees, and confident arguments from authority, the experts, like 320 million other Americans, did not have sufficient information or experience with the strains of SARS-CoV-2 to appreciate how unpredictable were the spread and course of the mysterious COVID-19 disease – mostly benign for the vast majority, absolutely deadly to a select few.
Yet again, scientific expertise also proves needlessly fallible because of politics. To be blunt, aside from the mass quarantines, thousands of others may have died from COVID-19, or will die because science has become ideologically weaponized.
Recent studies from a variety of sources, domestic and foreign – including the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and New York’s Mount Sinai Health System – have concluded that hydroxychloroquine has some medical efficacy in early stages of COVID-19.
Yet remember the “Hydroxy Effect”: anything endorsed by Donald J. Trump must be denigrated. Thus for the last nine months we have been lectured that the cheap, time-tried, and widely available hydroxychloroquine was dangerous and useless – even as millions worldwide felt it had saved thousands of lives from the ravages of COVID-19.
Many clinicians certainly pleaded that the drug’s availability gave them greater choices in treatment, and its efficacy often had far outweighed its side-effects, which after years of use and hundreds of millions of doses were considered tolerable. Again, no one knows whether the politicized decision to demonize the drug cost the planet thousands or more lives.
In May and June, thousands of Antifa and Black Lives Matters demonstrators hit the streets of some of our largest cities, initially at least, protesting the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Within days often mass looting and arson ensued.
Most states were under strict quarantines. The logic of the lockdowns forbade large outdoor gatherings, and demanded strict social distancing and the use of masks.
But when tens of thousands simply ignored these state guidelines, many health care providers lost all credibility by ignoring their own prior stern health advice.
Now suddenly they claimed that the angst occurring from not protesting was a greater health threat to would-be demonstrators than violating the quarantines and spreading the disease. So much for their concern over friends and families of the protestors at home, who might come in contact each pre-protesting morning with the soon out and about woke. So much for science.
In June over 1,200 health and medical professionals penned an open letter objecting that protests around the United States should not be shut down because of fears of spiking the disease. Yet it was not as though they conceded their prior advice was now entirely fallacious. Instead, it just needed a tweak and update.
Or as the progressive signees put it in good Foucauldian fashion, “We wanted to present a narrative that prioritizes opposition to racism as vital to the public health, including the epidemic response. We believe that the way forward is not to suppress protests in the name of public health.”
Translated, that meant some doctors, nurses, and health technicians felt protests and rallies – even those quite dangerous to all involved and that had propensities to result in violence, death, arson, injuries and massive property damage – were, well, necessary for public health. Suddenly forbidding assembling in mass was not public spiritedness, but was a sort of suppression.
The risk of infecting someone with the virus, then, was less a public health crisis than advising a protestor not to hit the streets. We will never know how many thousands subsequently became infected, after weeks on end of marching in mass, shouting, screaming in the faces of police, violating social dissenting, and often ignoring mask and hand cleansers – and then returning home to infect others likely more elderly and vulnerable. Rioting, looting, burning, and demonstrating en masse seems a likely more risky proposition for spreading the virus than, say, eating outside, with tables six feet apart.
Once again, of course, the exemptions of the medical experts were selective. If a deplorable watching the massive protests and rioting, later felt that it was now OK to attend an open-air rally to ensure that jobs would remain in America or border security might enhance the wages of the working poor, this Trump-support was given no such deference. Instead, subjectively invoke the now loaded noun “racism,” and science in Medieval fashion was warped to serve an ideological agenda.
More recently, a number of doctors have advised that the new coronavirus vaccinations not be disseminated to the public on sound scientific principles that the first to receive it should be health-care providers. These, after all, are the linchpins of the health-care system, while those over 65 are statistically the most likely to die from COVID-19.
But instead of prioritizing these two groups, some of our most credentialed experts now want vaccination queues to be governed by race. If a particular racial group, of any age, for any purported reason, has had a disproportionate rate of COVID-19 lethality, then it collectively should go to the head of the line before the elderly.
Or as medical “ethicist” Dr. Harald Schmidt put it:
Older populations are whiter. Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.
But why only “leveling” only “a bit”? Why not “lots” – like denying them COVID-19 vaccinations in timely fashion?
In other words, Dr. Schmidt advocated ignoring the medical science that all those, of every race, over 65 have a greater vulnerability to the virus than all those, of every race, under 65. It should be no surprise that we’ve all become skeptical of any medical professional who self-identifies as an “ethicist”?
In Schmidt-logic, a healthy young African-American of 25, or someone who is a 30-year-old one-quarter Latino, should be given vaccination preference over a 70-year old “white” person who is 80-90 times more likely to die if infected with the coronavirus – or for that matter a 80-year old Asian American or a 74-year old Mexican American.
Of course, Dr. Schmidt has no real knowledge why precisely some studies have shown that some minority groups are believed to be more susceptible than others to COVID-19, given the vast number of variables involved. And they include everything from the 50 million non-native born residents and citizens, who in large percentages arrived impoverished, and often without adequate prior medical care, from non-“white” majority countries, relative Vitamin D levels, greater comorbidities including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, lifestyle choices, poverty, nature of employment or access to medical care, and perhaps different innate levels of resistance to this particular type of coronavirus.
Again, note what Schmidt did not say, “We should vaccinate all those over 65 and all those younger with known comorbidities proven to endanger the infected.”
Even if he is given the power to factor race in vaccination strategy, then any people of color, as well as any of those of no color, with vulnerabilities would have no worries.
But, of course, the ethicist Schmidt doesn’t seem to care much for such details. As our version of a good progressive eugenicist, he could have defined, at least in his pseudo-scientific fashion, “people of color” and “non-people of color” as having half, a quarter or one-drop racial purity.
Perhaps DNA badges to ascertain racial purity? A bar code to prevent a Ward Churchill or Elizabeth Warren from crowding up when the stakes are not a university billet, but someone’s life?
And where are we to put Armenian Americans, Arab Americans, and Punjabi Americans in line? Or the Japanese American surgeon or the Brazilian-born Wall Street investor?
Perhaps we can distribute handy plastic color-coded chips to be placed near the arm for those queued, to ascertain their degree or color or colorlessness, and thereby either advancement or retreat in the vaccination line?
Perhaps there are historical examples that could guide us and improve efficiency in racially-governed health pre-selections – and maybe as soon as families got out of their transportation and lined up to be sent in one or the other direction?
So Schmidt virtue-signals his woke credentials by stereotyping all older white people as having “additional health benefits” – from the corporate CEO to the impoverished of Appalachia. Schmidt is ignorant apparently that rural, lower-middle class white males recently have seen the greatest stagnation in life expectancy of any demographic.
No matter. They can all take one for the American team. Or as Schmidt characterized the obligation of the unlucky melanin-deprived – “to level the playing field a bit.”
Note “a bit” – sort of like getting COVID-19 at 80, for example? Will there be a pushback, an “Old Poor White Lives Matter?”
In Schmidt’s Orwellian world, we would, I suppose, vaccinate Oprah, Beyoncé, or Labron James first, and then the 74-year-old retired white male tiler from rural southern Ohio, de facto to punish him with greater chances of non-vaccinated COVID-19 morbidity, all for his lifetime of “additional” perceived privileges – for which, demographically and medically, there is no statistical support.
In this brave new world of ours, we are now only a tiptoe away from the next step. And we know what that is: pruning back the elderly altogether by credentialed “ethicists” who would now begin the preliminary culling process by more or less thinning out those who already have had too many “additional health benefits,” whether because of their longevity or race or both.
A bit hyperbolic, too melodramatic? Not really.
One of Joe Biden’s chief medical advisors is another “bioethicist” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel. Not too long ago, Emanuel in The Atlantic advised that “this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop.”
Joe Biden is rich, white, and he is 78 – and often seems a bit “manic.” In any case, he is three years over Emanuel’s limit – and additionally by race and class way down on the pecking order for Schmidt’s envisioned national vaccination queue.
Perhaps in Schmidt’s phraseology, Biden could “level the playing field a bit,” take his unvaccinated chances with the virus, and thereby follow the counsel of his new medical advisor Emanuel – to concede that “75 is [was] a pretty good age to aim to stop.”
Vice President Harris no doubt would agree.
– – –
Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He was a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, and is currently the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004.