When I first saw the musical “Hamilton”—it was about a year into the Trump era— its upbeat message restored my faith in the strength of our institutions. I left the theater feeling optimistic about America’s future.
Last week, I watched the filmed version now streaming on television. It seemed sadly outdated, a paean to values wilting faster than unwatered flowers in a heat wave. The world turned upside down, indeed.
The man in the White House hasn’t changed. Rather, a vocal minority of the American people and some of our most cherished institutions are failing us at a moment when, to quote one of Hamilton’s signature lines, “history has its eyes on you.”
The healthcare industry writ large ranks right near the top of institutions stumbling through these trying times. Less than a decade ago, Republican leaders in Congress repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act with the claim it posed an existential threat to “the best healthcare delivery system in the world.”
Would anyone make that claim today? The U.S. has the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak. More than 130,000 of its citizens have died. Some states are reporting more deaths on a single day than the entire European Union.
Speaking of Europe, the European Union won’t let Americans in. Even Mexican states are forbidding Americans from crossing the border. The joke is so obvious that I can’t even bring myself to write it.
The media is frequently reminding people of the political mistakes made in the early days of the pandemic. The president failed to read the intelligence briefs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produced a lousy test and equivocated on public health messaging. The Food and Drug Administration bungled the rollout of tests and drugs. All were preceded by a decade in which Congress systematically defunded our pandemic preparedness programs.
Yet not a single federal official has resigned to protest the incompetent federal response. Instead, overworked local public health officials are quitting their posts because fellow Americans are threatening their lives. Why? They had the audacity to ask people to limit their activity to protect others. That is, they did their jobs.
Meanwhile, major hospital systems in Texas, Arizona and Florida, as they neared full capacity in ICU and hospital bed use, unveiled contingency plans that amounted to little more than stacking patients in emergency departments and hallways. Did their CEOs learn nothing from New York City’s disaster, which played out on national television?
Despite a consortia of private suppliers insisting things were under control, personal protective equipment supplies are running low in some areas of the country. The maker of remdesivir, the one new drug the FDA has approved for COVID-19, is charging a fortune, and it is in short supply.
ED physicians in some hospitals are making gut-wrenching decisions about who gets access to the most advanced life-saving ventilators. It turns out Sarah Palin’s death panels have finally come to pass. They are made up of individual docs practicing triage medicine.
To their credit, some hospital officials in the hardest-hit states have begun allowing television cameras into their ERs and ICUs to give the general public a true picture of what life is like in the seventh circle of pandemic hell. But why are others forbidding their employees to talk to reporters?
There’s only one hope for preventing widespread lockdowns this fall. It lies in convincing antisocial skeptics that everyone needs to wear masks, socially distance and limit public gatherings, even as their titular leader encourages resistance and refuses to wear a mask.
Writing nearly two centuries ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, after touring our young democracy, feared its fealty to majority rule would wind up oppressing those holding unpopular opinions. He called it the tyranny of the majority. Today, it is the tyranny of the minority I fear the most.