Fighting Evil: You Do What You Can

Fighting Evil: You Do What You Can


Leonard Zwelling

In a country led by a man like Donald Trump, it is very difficult to be hopeful. This is all the more true when watching the Democrats try to sort themselves out to identify the one among them who can successfully challenge Trump. That a man with a history like Joe Biden and a bevy of socialists can still be in the running should make any right thinking American deeply concerned.

Michelle Goldberg is a little liberal for my taste, but she makes some good points in her op ed of April 9.

The crux of her essay is that, using departing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as an example, we Americans need to stigmatize all those who enabled Trump. He has stigmatized himself enough. Those around him need to be resisted at all costs when they hit the private sector. The penalty Trump will pay ought to be first at the ballot box in November of 2020 and then in a courtroom in New York. His henchmen need to be kept away from the rest of America so they can do no more harm as they leave the scene in DC.

Apparently one of the reasons that Nielsen hung on as long as she did is that she feared she would be ostracized by decent America now that she is leaving the administration. Let’s hope so. There should indeed, as Goldberg suggests, be no corporate or university parachute for the likes of Nielsen who was more than happy to separate kids from their parents at the border and may actually be out because she wasn’t harsh enough for Trump. The notion that there is not enough room in America for more immigrants when the unemployment rate is 3.8% is on its face absurd. We desperately need more workers, particular those willing to take menial service and agricultural jobs, but also those who could be employed in high tech. America needs more people if the economy is to grow.

It is critical that the majority of Americans who oppose Trump and his policies make those who graduate from the current administration pariahs in decent America.

This brings me to David Brooks’ editorial near Goldberg’s. He discusses social norms, how they are changing and how Trump has disrupted them in allowing everything from misogyny to white supremacy to become subjects of civil conversation. This too can change through the actions of right thinking Americans. Brooks categorizes five types of what he calls “norm-shifters.”

Namers: people who describe reality in a new way, like Charles Dickens describing the poor of England.

Confrontationalists: people who identify evil and confront it like the civil rights marchers of the 1960s.

Illuminators: people who create new norms like the counter culturalists of 1960s Haight-Asbury.

Conveners: these are the organizers, like Bernie’s hordes of young people.

Celebrities: people who use their star power for good. I’m thinking Bono or Al Gore here.

All of this is a prelude to something that has been on my mind of a more local interest.

What the heck is really happening at MD Anderson? Is it shaking off the effects of fifteen years of poor leadership and corruption or is it just taking on a new way of handling those the system cannot tolerate?

Specifically, there once again appears to be a purge going on at Anderson. It has two targets. First, there is some question in the minds of many (including those in the lay press) as to whether or not being of Chinese heritage puts you at higher risk for being dismissed at Anderson. There have been a few high profile exits of late that are very concerning to some of us and I don’t think for a minute that these are any more random than the purge of those of Jewish heritage were a few years ago. Second, there seems to be little tolerance for behavior that doesn’t fit into a highly circumscribed mold of “one MD Anderson.”

MD Anderson is an academic institution. The faculty carry more weight than the janitors when it comes to making policy and keeping the place afloat. I understand that the leadership does not agree with this, but I think the leadership is wrong. It matters what the faculty think more than what the nurses think. I am a bit old-fashioned that way. No one comes to MD Anderson as a patient to see the nurses or the janitors. That is not to say that non-faculty are unimportant. They are critical. But there is a pecking order in any organization and at an academic medical center the faculty members lead.

How do I put this all together?

I am very troubled by the new norms at Anderson. I think they are a bad idea at a time when medicine desperately needs to be returned to the doctors. The faculty needs all five kinds of disrupters that the Brooks essay describes.

In addition, installing the FORDs (Friends of Ron DePinho) in major positions in the faculty and administrative leadership is rewarding those who served a real tyrant. This is a terrible idea and I wish the leadership of Anderson would rethink some of its recent appointments.

Both the country and MD Anderson needed new captains at the tiller. Both got them in 2016-17. The country’s new captain is a true disaster. It may take generations to undo what Trump has wrought in two short years.

MD Anderson was in trouble since 2001 when Enron and ImClone should have been clear indicators that a change at the top was needed. I guess the Board of Regents disagreed. Here we are, but with a new leader, thank goodness. However, I think the changes he has made so far are a bit timid for my taste, but perhaps they will work out. It depends what you mean by work out.

To me, work out means MD Anderson takes a leadership role in the effort to eradicate cancer. It should lead major efforts to spread cancer prevention strategies through the city and not worry about expanding to New Jersey. It should hire the best cancer researchers in the world. With a Nobel laureate on the faculty, you would think that should be easy, but the basic sciences need expanding and need new leaders. Finally, the clinical leadership of Anderson used to be one star after another. That is not the case any longer. It should be.

Out with the old, in with the new and the new ought to be those willing to change the norms at Anderson. What’s good for America will be good for Anderson. Don’t you think so?

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