Charles Homans wrote a piece called “Just Us” in The New York Times Magazine on March 19. In it he focuses on Emily Kohrs, the very teenage-sounding 30-year-old forewoman of the grand jury in Georgia that may or may not have concluded that Donald Trump committed an indictable offense in trying to encourage the overseers of Georgia’s elections to find him 11,000 or so votes in the 2020 presidential election.
Homans points out that more and more of the pillars of authority in our society are being revealed as resting on common folk, with average IQs, and about which there is nothing special at all. They are just like you and me.
Apparently, the laws governing the degree to which grand jury members can reveal deliberations to the press is a bit more lenient in Georgia than in the rest of the country and Ms. Kohrs violated no laws by her many conversations with the press after the panel concluded its work.
Here’s what Homans writes:
“Institutional authority, in a democracy, rests on the presumption that ordinary people who are granted extraordinary influence will be changed by it—that, as Spider-Man learned with great power comes great responsibility.” This has been revealed to be untrue, but it has never been a secret.
Look no farther than Richard M. Nixon to see a very petty man rise to the heights of power and be felled by his very pettiness.
“Americans have been losing faith in public institutions for decades, but it’s possible to lose faith in them without losing a sense of their stature. What’s newer is the loss of mystique.”
Because once we realize that the President of the United States puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us, his magical powers vanish. And we can probably watch Mr. Biden dress on TikTok.
I think the last president with magical powers was John Kennedy and he’s been dead for sixty years. Since then, we have come to realize that the occupants of the White House, and for that matter the denizens of Capitol Hill, are just like us. That became abundantly clear to me when I was working on the Hill. The senators seemed so ordinary. They were nothing special and we have come to expect little of them.
I believe that the same thing has happened in academic medicine and in medicine in general. The powers of the healer have been replaced by the doctor as bureaucrat and clerk, and at the top of the heap, the presidents of the major academic institutions appear to be as common and corrupt as the rest of humanity.
MD Anderson provides a perfect example.
Both R. Lee Clark and Mickey LeMaistre were magic in their ability to make you believe in them and their visions. Dr. Clark virtually invented the idea that a free-standing cancer center at the edge of downtown Houston could become a world-renown mecca of cancer care. Dr. LeMaistre saw something even greater. Not only could MD Anderson provide cutting-edge patient care, but it could contribute to scientific excellence with great basic research AND spearhead a new discipline, cancer prevention.
To his credit, John Mendelsohn held even higher aspirations. He wanted the research to be as great as the patient care and came close to pulling it off. Then he was weakened by his own personal aspirations when he dabbled in the business world, a world about which he knew very little—an oh-so common error. It’s been a downhill ride to demystification ever since for the MD Anderson leadership. Ron DePinho wanted MD Anderson to become a drug company and imported people to do just that. Many of these people are still at Anderson but now working for a man who has no idea what a laboratory is or what goes on there. He’s so—common. His own aspirations seem to sway toward self-glorification and actualization via adulation from outside bodies. Do any cancer patients really care about a diversity award? I doubt it.
The leadership crisis in America may be distilled down to the fact that not only are our leaders just like us, they don’t even pretend to be anything else, nor do they have the cloak of power. To them, with great power comes no responsibility.
What is behind the curtain of the mighty Oz of Pickens? Nothing but ourselves.
Len’s new novel, “Conflict of Interest:Money Drives Medicine: People Die” is available at barnesandnoble.com