Fast Forward: America In Four Years Looks Like MD Anderson Now


Leonard Zwelling

In this piece sent to me by son Richard, David Frum, a former W speechwriter, paints a picture of how Donald Trump’s election in 2016 could lead to an autocratic America. He ends the piece this way:

“Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them.”

Sound familiar Andersonians? It should.

The undermining of what was once the world’s greatest threat to cancer, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has been perpetrated on the faculty with its consent by an extreme lack of moral leadership for many years. Unfortunately, the faculty has not been the loyal opposition to corruption at the seat of power that it should have been. It has rarely spoken up and rarely resisted. Its Senate will still not go on record as voting “no confidence” in the present administration. Is this a change?

You bet it is.

I certainly felt all kinds of faculty pressure when I was a vice president and wanted to do something administratively to which the faculty objected. I don’t even recognize the reticence of the current faculty.

Faculty complaints are what led me to form an advisory group of faculty and other clinical research personnel to my office early in my tenure to get their input BEFORE, I initiated any new program—even those mandated by the federal government of which there were more than a few.

But corruption overwhelmed MD Anderson starting in 2001 and continued thereafter. Whether that came in the form of involvement with large corporate entities of questionable morals in Houston or New York, the large-scale investment in unnecessary buildings and personnel, the overspending unmasked by the financial crisis of 2008, or finally the frank conflict of interest and self-serving, self-dealing nepotism and furniture shopping of the latest occupants of the executive suite in Pickens, MD Anderson’s core values have been eroded not by outward purposeful actions of mismanagement (although there has been plenty of that), but by the knowing attempt to subjugate the best interests of the patients and faculty of Anderson to the selfish interest of those on top. This has resulted in budget deficits as far as the eye can see, staff layoffs (can faculty layoffs be far behind?), inefficient patient care, messy and bloated administrative structures, and the decay of the last vestiges of morale among the people working at 1515 Holcombe.

And that’s what has begun to happen in the United States in its first month of Trump.

The Flynn resignation or firing or whatever it was, is just the first brick in the wall to tumble. His chosen successor turned the job down proving he was capable of doing it, but too smart to take it. They were able to identify a second (or is this third) choice.

The Trump environment is like Watergate in fast forward mode accelerated by the speed of the Internet and the deluge of leaks from career government workers.

We know how this ends and it is badly.

The tax cuts and infrastructure spending will lead to larger budget deficits and greater borrowing. This will necessitate higher interest rates and eventually inflation will return. Welcome to 1979.

On top of this, the Watergate equivalent of the Nixon Tapes may be FBI wiretaps of people in the Trump White House conversing with the Kremlin and eventually we will undoubtedly find out what the Russians really have on The Donald. It is unlikely to be about his barber.

I am not sure who the Deep Throat equivalent is in this story, but he or she is out there sending information to the media and possibly even to those rare aspects of the government that have yet to fall under the spell of the Trumpees, like the career intelligence community.

Nonetheless, like those at Anderson, we in America will have to go through some tough times to survive our terrible judgment that led to The Donald’s installation in the Oval Office.

At least the faculty of Anderson was not complicit in the hiring of The Ronald. He too will be gone shortly as the process of ending this 5+year nightmare has begun with the appointment of Steve Hahn as the new Deputy in town. My only fear is that the Chancellor’s poor handling of the political aspects of his Houston land acquisition, may have left his hands tied with regard to firing Dr. DePinho. The Chancellor annoyed some regents and the Houston legislative delegation by offending U of H with his UT land grab without having consulted with this constituency prior to inking his deal.

The malaise that plagues MD Anderson is likely to infect America as it wearies of the swing from No Drama Obama to Soap Opera Kellyanne and Spicey.

The sun will come out tomorrow both on Holcombe and on Pennsylvania Avenue and both great institutions, MD Anderson and the US government, will survive. It will be painful, but the good news is the process has begun in both cases.

Leonard Zwelling