Carnage Vs. Hope: Trump vs. Obama, Springsteen vs. Taylor, DePinho vs. ?

Carnage Vs. Hope: Trump vs. Obama, Springsteen vs. Taylor, DePinho vs. ?


Leonard Zwelling

The picture Donald Trump painted of America during his Inaugural Address was like the lyrics of a Bruce Springsteen song.

“Factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation;
An education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge;
And the crimes and the gangs and the drugs have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

Wow, that’s bleak stuff.

Mr. Trump’s solution is to look backward to an America that he believes was great and which can be “great again.” The only problem is that it was great, but it was an America that never really was as he describes it and even if it was it cannot be again (see John Harwood in Saturday’s NY Times).

That America was all white Christian. That America allowed blue collar manufacturing workers to own a house, two cars and send their kids to college. That America had baseball not football as its national pastime and that America was racist, misogynist and anti-Semitic (Google ‘America First’). Thanks, but no thanks, you can keep that America and the picture painted by Mr. Trump and Mr. Springsteen (and the one painted by Walt Disney and Norman Rockwell). It may well have been true for some, but the first entertainer, the one from New Jersey, doesn’t have to have an answer for this picture, and the second, the one from New York, doesn’t have one. He needs one.

I did not always agree with President Obama, even in the early days. I thought him too aloof, too no drama, and too unwilling to stroke the egos on Capitol Hill who could hold his agenda hostage and who eventually did. But, he exuded hope and his face was turned toward tomorrow. Even on Friday, as he was leaving office, he sounded notes of hope for the future and I actually started to miss him already. At least he was smart. At least you thought he could figure it out. He may have given us a bit of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain, but he was also the sunny Sweet Baby James when that was what was needed. “Ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go.”

I cannot see Mr. Trump as ever being sunny. As someone said to me at dinner last night, the first time the new President has to visit the family of a fallen soldier, perhaps he will grasp what his real job is. Yes, the reality of today is important to document, but the President must have at least one eye on tomorrow, but to do so does not require the damning of everything that is today and the gilding of everything that was yesterday.

This brings me to Dr. DePinho and his start in 2011.

There is no doubt that he had an eye on tomorrow with his plans to cure cancer, but he evoked a dishonest interpretation of the past as his plan to get us there. If you can find the video from 2011 compare it with yesterday’s Inaugural Address. Scary!

The Ronald revised the history of the race to the moon as a scientific advance, because that was the metaphor he needed even though the Space Race was nothing of the sort. It was a political ploy to beat the Russians by a young US President at the height of the Cold War. All the science needed to get to the moon was known in 1961 (actually, hundreds of years before) as the recent movie Hidden Figures makes quite clear. It was the technology (and some of the math) that was needed not the science. But it is science that is needed to cure cancer.

The future of cancer care undoubtedly will be found in minimizing environmental and genetic risk, decreasing detrimental human behavior, and finally elucidating new mechanisms to fight the disease once it has established itself in an individual human—a very tough task. Looking to a fallacious interpretation of the 1960s where science was conflated with foreign affairs to create a contest that pushed technology and engineering to its limits, but science only one small step is not the stuff of visionary leadership. And Dr. DePinho’s opinion of the science he found at MD Anderson when he arrived was rather easy to discern and consistent with Mr. Trump’s view of today’s America (especially its intelligence services). Both were inaccurate.

I mean really. How bad could America be when a television personality and reality TV host with four bankruptcies behind him can become President of the United States and an immigrant model can become First Lady? And Drs. LeMaistre, Becker, Mendelsohn and Kripke had definitely improved the science at MD Anderson between 1983 and 2011. Despite what you may hear, Dr. DePinho is not the first MD Anderson member in the National Academy of Sciences either. That was William Lennarz.

Mr. Trump and Dr. DePinho have a distorted vision of the now and the yesterday that alters their hopes for tomorrow. To his credit, Mr. Springsteen at least has The Rising as a countervailing weight toward hope.

Mr. Obama never lost his vision for a better tomorrow right up to his exit.

Mr. Trump is looking for tomorrow in yesterday. It’s not there.

Dr. DePinho is looking for tomorrow in a moon shot in the middle of a bright, sunny day.

You want to stop cancer? We know how. Senator Al Franken asked the HHS Secretary-designate Tom Price what the leading cause of preventable deaths was. Dr. Price could not answer that it was smoking (and this guy is a doctor?). If smoking stopped; mammograms, Pap smears and colonoscopies were had by all in need; and fast food consumption dropped, it would outdo any moon shot in altering cancer deaths.

Now that’s a vision for a better tomorrow. We can hope, right?

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