Growing up, I always wanted to be a doctor. I had no idea what public health was. When I finally made it to med school, I soon realized that the goals I had to become a practicing physician were much too narrow. Addressing the problems I wanted to as a doctor would be more effectively met through population-based health policy. After dropping out of med school, I enrolled in the school of public health to pursue a dual masters of public health and health administration.
Just as I learned then, our country this year has learned the true value of the field of public health and the potential and need for a strong government agency. Unfortunately, now everyone thinks they are a biostatistician figuring out if COVID-19 really is dangerous or not based on mortality and morbidity numbers.
Is contact tracing necessary to stem the spread of the pandemic, or is it better to not know who is infected because that makes the numbers look better? Unfortunately, those who disregard the utility of public health methodology are the ones in charge, and it has been ruinous for our country.
This has been especially laid to bare by the epidemic sweeping through the White House. Thirty-five staff in the West Wing, including the president, have contracted COVID-19, demonstrating how the conscious decisions to not wear masks nor practice social distancing can facilitate the spread of this disease.
It might have been somewhat reassuring if the impact of the incompetency were limited to the White House, but instead, we have seen deaths due to COVID-19 rise above 210,000 with no end in sight. Yes, America is first, but for all the wrong reasons.
But this is not just a case of incompetence. It is also the result of a deliberate effort by this administration to decimate the federal government. Vital programs in the Department of Health and Human Services and throughout all branches of the administration have been scaled back and targeted for zeroing out in every presidential budget. Now we see the fruits of those efforts with a Centers for Disease Control that has been unable to respond adequately to the pandemic.
When the Trump administration came in, they said they were going to drain the swamp. For them, this meant driving out career employees who had served faithfully and honorably through multiple Democratic and Republican administrations.
I, myself, am proud to have served during the George Bush administration in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
I might not have agreed with all the policies of the administration at the time, but that did not affect my dedication to carry out my duties and serve with full effort, and I continue to hold Dr. Mark McClellan, then-CMS administrator, in the highest regard.
We are now seeing the effects of the loss of so many dedicated government employees. A hollowed-out government is unable to fully respond to the pandemic, but even if they could, it is likely this administration would not allow them to respond in full.
The more cases of COVID-19 that we know about, the more poorly it reflects upon the administration. This, of course, ignores the fact that with that data, we could likely reduce the number of infections.
They want the American people to believe that government is not necessary and have nearly made that a self-fulfilling prophecy by creating a government that is intentionally unable to perform its necessary functions to serve its citizens.
We must demand a competent government. It doesn’t need to be big, but it does need to work — and work for the average American.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a huge challenge — it would be regardless of who is in charge — but their intentional efforts to prevent a full response and the handicaps placed throughout the government in the preceding three years are entirely the fault of the current leadership. They must be held accountable. We deserve better from our government.
In the meantime, take a moment to offer your thanks to the public health workers at the CDC who, in spite of an obstructive administration, work to keep us safe. Thank the career foreign service officers who maintain positive relations with our allies, even when our country is viewed in such negative light by others. Thank you to the lawyers at the Department of Justice who continue to work for the integrity of our legal system, even as the attorney general directs resources toward purely political activities.
Our country can and will recover, and it will be because of the dedicated government employees who continue to serve under the current administration and will continue to serve under future administrations without consideration of party, but only of country.
Only with a fundamentally strong and competent government can we be a strong nation.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.